By Ashraf Padanna/Kannur, Kerala
The northern Kerala city of Kannur was catapulted onto the world aviation map yesterday with the opening of an international airport amid festivities in the region, home to a large number of expatriates in the Gulf.
Federal Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu and state Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan jointly lit a traditional lamp announcing the launch of the airport and flagged off the first flight.
The Air India Express flight carrying 186 passengers left for Abu Dhabi around 10.15am, as hundreds of spectators cheered. Each passenger received a gift from the Kannur International Airport Ltd (KIAL), the company that runs the airport.
The AIE’s Doha and Sharjah flights start today.
GoAir also started its domestic flights yesterday from the new airport. Other airlines expect their schedules to be cleared by the authorities soon.
Kerala is now the only state in India with four international airports, mainly catering to around 2mn expatriates and their families living in the Gulf countries.
Kannur is also the second in the corporate sector after the highly successful Kochi airport. The Airports Authority of India runs the other two, in Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode.
The authorities expect traffic from Coorg region in the nearby Karnataka state besides Malabar as well. Kerala has also announced its fifth airport near Sabarimala targeting pilgrims to the famed Hindu hill shrine there.
Prabhu said the greenfield airport would pave the way for the state’s overall development and prosperity, especially the northern region.
“The Kannur airport, built on a public-private partnership (PPP) mode, will become a new benchmark of how airports will be constructed in the country,” he said.
“The airport will help non-resident Keralites (NRKs), especially in the Gulf region, besides boosting tourism and exports, which will result in several job opportunities.”
Vijayan hailed the support of the minister in fulfilling the state’s dream project. He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s response was also positive on bringing more foreign carriers here.
However, a row has broken out between rival political factions to pitch the airport as their success story.
In his inaugural address, Vijayan said the airport project was conceived in 1996 when E K Nayanar was the chief minister, but nothing happened when A K Anthony and Oommen Chandy of the Congress assumed power in 2001 and 2004, respectively.
“It was when V S Achuthanandan assumed office in 2006 that things started to move forward. When Chandy assumed office again in 2011, a trial operation at the airport took place when an Indian Air Force aircraft landed in 2016,” Vijayan said.
“It was only after we came to power in 2016 that the airport project was completed. Today is the real inauguration and the airport has been commissioned.”
Chandy told reporters in Kottayam that he did not want to be drawn into a controversy, as he is happy that the airport has been finally commissioned.
“The people of Kerala know everything and I am not interested to be drawn into a controversy. I have not been invited (to the inauguration) but I am happy that the airport has finally opened,” said Chandy.
Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala said the Chandy government had finished 90% of the work and the current government should have finished the remaining work and opened the airport at least two years ago.
“When Chandy conducted the trial operations using an IAF aircraft in 2016, E P Jayarajan protested while raising demands that the runway should be extended. Today, as industries minister, Jayarajan is at the forefront of the inauguration though not even an inch of the runway has been increased from what we had finished in 2016. This government despite being in office for over two-and-a-half years has not been able to conceive a single project,” said Chennithala.
K Babu, a former state minister who was entrusted with the job of overseeing the work of the airport by Chandy, said the least he expected was a telephone call from the state government.
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