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Monday, December 6

The Trivandrum Airport saga

The curious, lengthy and irritating saga of Trivandrum Int'l Airport could well be summed up in two simple words: total disgrace.

Ideally we shouldn't be talking about the old international terminal (T2) here as we all expected it to be history long time back. The brick and mortar building, Kerala's first aerodrome terminal, has over time turned into an apology for modern International Airline operations. A new, third, city-side terminal was conceived in the late 90s as a befitting salute to the state capital, but things never moved an inch from status-quo until millennium-break.

UK based designers Atkins were entrusted the job and the product was nothing less than spectacular.

Details of the project:
*  Tubular, sustainable, futuristic design
*  Construction of a parallel taxiway
*  Peak hour handling capacity of 800 arriving passengers and 800 departing passengers
*  The departure area will have 30 check-in counters and 18 immigration counters
*  Arrival area will have 18 immigration counters and 18 customs counters.
*  Eight aircraft parking bays
3 aerobridges with provision for a fourth one
*  New cargo complex and a landbank of 88 acres
* Air India- Boeing Maintenance Base
New Terminal Interior photo courtesy The Hindu

Since then the proceedings  have been sort of a bitter-sweet affair.  Its been close to a year since the new terminal, called T3 by many, has been waiting like a fully dressed-up bride for her groom just to tie the knot.

One look at this timeline and you'll see why this tale stands out among our contemporary development tragedy tales...

December 2000: Central Govt agrees in principle for the development of a new Terminal for Trivandrum Airport. The existing terminal deemed outdated, congested and inappropriate for International operations.

2004 July: Civil Aviation Ministry includes Trivandrum as one among the 10 non-Metro Airports to be developed  with private participation

2005 December: Aviation Ministry allocates 256 crores to develop new city-side International Terminal for Trivandrum. It would coming up beside the new NH 47 Bypass and would be, numerically, the third terminal of Trivandrum after the Int'l and Domestic terminals (T2 and T1 respectively).

image courtesy Sreeraj K.R @ SSC-Tvm

2006 February:  Kerala Govt promise to initiate steps to acquire the required land in 2 phases. 27 acres for Phase I and II combined, and 130 acres in total. As of today not an inch of land outside these 27 acres has been acquired but time and again the authorities make complete ass of the public by announcing that the land will be acquired in 2 weeks or so when confronted by the press.

November 2006: Groundbreaking day for the swanky new terminal, by PM Manmohan Singh. Phase I kicked off and planned to be commissioned by September 2008.

October 2007: AAI decides to commence Phase II along with Phase I and open the terminal by May 2009.

December 2007: Works halt on Air India Engineering Base (Hangar) project as acquisition of Travancore Rubber Works land run into troubled waters.

Air India Hangar
June 2008: Over 18 months after the start of T3 works and just 10 months left for inauguration, KITCO decides its time to start work on the crucial approach flyover. The 30m wide 6-lane carriageway passes over T.S.Canal, connecting the terminal to NH Bypass.

September 2008: Cargo movement from TRV takes a dip ahead of T3 opening amidst fears of accessibility of the Air Cargo Complex from new terminal.

October 2008: KSIE earmarks 10 acres of land at Vallakkadavu adjascent to the new terminal for an International Cargo hub (Kaumudi news screenshot) at a cost of 90 crores. No noteworthy progress on this proposal, as land acquisition not yet commenced.

February 2009: AAI decides to widen and strengthen the perimeter road from the Air Cargo Complex to the tarmac of the new terminal to facilitate the smooth transport of cargo.

March 2009: Works on Air India Engineering Base start, after long delays.

GoI plans to develop 6 multi-modal hubs in the country; Trivandrum short-listed as one of them. (Economic Times link)  No further follow up on this project as of today.

New Terminal Phase I ready to be opened by May 2009. Works on Phase II, initially planned after commissioning of Phase I, now initiated and the deadline extended to Dec 2009.

July 2009: The State Government considering evolving a special package for the rehabilitation of ~350 families who will have to be evicted for next phases of development. Nothing solid has transpired so far.

September 2009: Hangar works expected to finish by June 2009.  T3 opening date for last week of December as an X'mas/ New year gift for the city.

November 2009: Scarcity of sand stalls approach road and flyover works. Meanwhile State Govt urged to acquire remaining land for the development of Airport while T3 opening postponed yet again.

 T3 Airside image courtesy The Hindu

January 2010: AAI says they're ready to open to open T3 but the approach road has reached nowhere. Plans to construct a temporary approach road from old Airport Road fall through. Date of opening pushed back, now March is the new deadline.

February 2010: AAI promises to take up strengthening works of the perimeter road to facilitate cargo transfer between terminals. 

May 2010: Newsreports confirm opening date as May 20, with the Prime Minister most likely to take the honour of cutting the ribbon. But the unavailability of the PM for the selected dates upsets the cart.

June 2010: AAI officially completes T3 works (Phase I & II) while KITCO drags on with approach flyover works.

July 2010: Union Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi to inaugurate T3. Stiff opposition from State Govt over political differences with Mr. Ravi led to cancellation of the date. Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel deemed to open T3 on July 16th (Newslink) but postponed yet again. New proposals for linking the terminal via waterways and rail-link actively considered.

Qatar Airways join Emirates and Saudia to commence exclusive freighter services to TIA using wide bodied jets; a B-777 this time after the former two airlines flew in B-747s. 

April 2010:  AAI approves implementing a UDF (Users Development Fee) of  Rs.755 for travel through Trivandrum Airport.

July 2010: Gulf Air winds up Trivandrum operations.

 T3 Entrance (view from approach flyover) image courtesy Vivek S

September 2010: A new ATC Tower is proposed, pending approval from AAI honchos.

Air India board meeting decides to shift the headquarters if Air- India Express from Mumbai to Trivandrum. (Newslink)  This decision sets off a familiar chain reaction which Trivandrumites are all too familiar with now.

Air India raises technical issues and space constraints ahead of T3 opening, scheduled for second week of October. The deadline, as an effect, is pushed back yet again.

October 2010: An Air India Express B-737-800 docks with one of the T3 jetways as part of trial run. Thumbs up from officials and all those concerned.

Airport Director is literally sacked overnight, raising many eyebrows. Internal politics and dirty lobbying suspected behind the hasty and unprecedented decision.

Air India Express goes on an unprecedented cancellation spree of flights to and from Kerala; Trivandrum suffering the most. On top of it Air India shoots up its fares on domestic and international routes from Trivandrum.

Plans to make the airport a multi- transport hub mooted. 

November 2010:  Air Asia decides to wind up Trivandrum operations. (Newslink) The hefty users fee pointed out to be a reason for withdrawal of low-cost carrier. Meanwhile another low cost carrier, Singapore based Tiger Airways spread their wings to Trivandrum.

Air India Express drafts a settlement formula; decides to move Administrative Headquarters to Cochin and retain the Engineering Base in Trivandrum.

AAI decides to commission T3 on second week of December. New reports in prominent media that passengers are abandoning the capital airport because of high rates.

State Govt opposes to the idea of opening the Terminal without 'proper' inauguration. AAI duly oblige. Full stop.

December 2010: Of late, Dec 12 is rumoured to be the new date for opening T3. Newsreport that both Domestic and International operations will be from the new terminal perplexes many.

As 2010 draws to its last few days, an year after the first proposed date of opening, it's anybody's guess as to when the first passenger will be able to check-out of the new Trivandrum International Airport terminal. More than the infamous passivity of big-brother Air India, it is the I-don't-give-a-damn attitude of the people's representatives from Trivandrum that has been shocking and disheartening.

 International Terminal Panorama image courtesy Vivek S

What has been unique in this tale is that such a landmark project is yet to be opened months after completion of works, just because they couldn't shortlist an appropriate inaugurater! In the state-of-affairs prevailing in our country, I certainly feel its bewildering and bamboozling.

Will 2011 make a difference? Well, what else could one hope for?

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