Kerala govt to continue backing Sabarimala airport project, to clear DGCA's misgivings

Kottayam: The Kerala Government is all set to file a satisfactory reply to a slew of objections raised by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) regarding the proposed construction of a greenfield airport at the Cheruvally Estate, near Erumeli, in Kottayam district.

The DGCA found fault with the design and techno-economic feasibility report of the project submitted by the State Government.

Airport Special Officer V Thulasidas and Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC) Managing Director M G Rajamanikyam and the representatives of consultant firm Louis Berger are holding a series of meetings to file reply to the objections raised by the air transport regulator.   

Based on the letter of the DGCA, the Union Civil Aviation Ministry has asked for an explanation from the State Government. Both Thulaidas and Rajamanikyam told Manorama that the government would be able to file a detailed reply, on the lines of the explanation given below, by a week's time. 

Here follows the major issues, marked bold, flagged by the DGCA and the explanation planned by the government.  

The feasibility report prepared by the KSIDC and Louis Berger did not contain any signature. So, the report lacks credibility.

The KSIDC, which is the executing agency, had signed the document. The report of the consultant firm had just been appended to the main report by the KSIDC. So, there was no need for the consultants affixing signature on it. But now that the DGCA has asked for it, the signature of the consultants  will be affixed on the report,

In the feasibility report, it is given that the proposed airport comes within two villages. But the report is silent about the population of the two villages and the detailed rehabilitation plans.   

The government felt that such a query arose out of a misconception about the meaning of the word 'village'. In the report, what was meant by a village was revenue village. In North India, the village is a place where people live together. They mistook revenue villages as North Indian-type villages.  The proposed site at Cheruvally is an deserted estate that comes in between villages of Erumeli and Manimala South. There is not much population there.  

It is difficult to find proper length and breadth for the runway at the Cheruvally Estate as per the DGCA norms.    

For an international airport, a 3000-meter-long runway is needed. There is enough space at Cheruvally to construct a 3000-meter-long runway. The length of the runway at Kannur airport is 3050 meters. In Nedumbassery it is 3400 meters.

The distance between Cochin International Airport at Nedumbassery and the Trivandrum International Airport to the proposed airport at Sabarimala is 88 km and 110 km, respectively. Usually permission is not given for a new airport within a 150 km area.

According to government sources, the 150-km stipulation can be relaxed if the Central Government is convinced of the need for starting a new airport. The State Government would convince the Centre of the need for opening a new airport for facilitating smooth Sabarimala pilgrimage and for ensuring more development in hilly areas. The Kannur airport, which comes in between the Mangalore Airport and the Karipur Airport, does not follow this distance limit. But still, it got the permission to function.       

The signals coming from the Thiruvananthapuram and Nedumbassery airports may intercept at the proposed airport.

According to the government, this is purely a technical issue which can be solved. In New Delhi, two airports are situated nearby and there are no such issues. The Air Traffic Control authority can take steps to avoid convergence of signals coming from various airports. It will not pose a big problem in the functioning of an airport.  



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