For a state that stretches just 580 kms from one end to the other, Kerala has the unique distinction of having three international airports while some, much larger states, make do with one. A fourth will be added to this clutch by next year when the Kannur International Airport Ltd (KIAL) becomes operational.
Once notorious for clashes between the CPI (M) and RSS where more than 300 people have been killed, north Kerala’s Kannur will soon boast of an international airport in a few months, aside from Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi and Kozhikode. Located in the Malabar district, 22 kms away from the Kannur city, the facility is being considered the modern token for Malabar that isn’t as developed as the Travancore and Kochi regions of the state.
Kerala’s airports largely cater to its citizens shuttling between the oil-rich gulf nations and their home towns, with more than 11% of Kerala’s population -- as many as 25.2 lakh malayalis living abroad, the bulk of them in the middle-east. Of this, close to 10 lakh hail from the Malabar region.
The tiny state where narrow roads are a standard norm due to paucity of space is clearly betting its future on its vast NRI community whose remittances account for 40% of the state’s GDP.
“The project is a real tribute to the millions of NRIs who toil in alien land to make our country proud,” said chief minister Oommen Chandy who pushed major infrastructural projects like the Kannur airport, Kochi metro and Vizhinjam mother port during his five-year tenure.
Built on a public private partnership-based model, KIAL is planning to conduct test flights in January and begin passenger traffic by September. Once fully operational, the green field airport will be the largest of Kerala’s airports, with a runway stretching up to 3400m.
For malayalees travelling back to Kerala, the idea of landing at a new airport is exciting. Hareendran, an Ayurveda practitioner based in Toronto, Canada, has in fact postponed his visit back to Kannur for another year just so he can land at KIAL.
But it isn’t just the expat community that’s excited about the new facility.
A farmer, P Kanaran lost his house and land to the project. But instead, from the hefty compensation package he received three years ago, he has invested heavily in the airport. “We are excited. It will change the face of our area,” he said.
Almost 30% of KIAL’s shares are owned by private individuals, most of them beneficiaries of the rehabilitation package as well as non-resident Indians.
“Strategically located, Kannur with its infrastructure can be an airline hub between the far east and middle east. It will be a big boost to Malabar and south Karnataka,” said NRI businessman MA Yusuf Ali who holds the single largest individual stake of around Rs 45 crore.
The remaining stocks of the KIAL are held by various state agencies; the Kerala government holds 35.8% stake (in the form of land) while Bharat Petroleum Corporation owns 25.28% and the Airports Authority of India holds 11.6%.
Conceived along the lines of the country’s first corporate airport -- Cochin International Airport, the political consensus behind the project was quite unprecedented as well. Usually a major hurdle in the state’s development, political parties came around easily enough.
“We have constructed the airport in record two years. Many international airlines have shown keen interest to start their services from here,” said port minister K Babu.
The idea for the new airport was conceived in the late 90s when Kannur-born CM Ibrahim was the civil aviation minister in the Deve Gowda-government. However, the project never took off. When Oommen Chandy took office in 2011, the project received a major fillip with the UPA regime listing KIAL as the lead project in its infrastructural push.
The Rs 1900 crore project is expected to provide direct employment to 3,000 people and at least 10,000 indirectly.
Real estate in the region has also received a boost with the closest town Mattanur municipality drawing up master plans for improved infrastructure. Located 45 kms from the Karnataka border, Kannur airport will also service two districts of south Karnataka -- Kodagu and Dakshin Kannada.