Calicut airport set to spread its wings with operation of wide-body aircraft


Saudi Gazette

CALICUT — Wide-body aircraft of Saudia, Emirates, Etihad Airways and Air India will soon operate their flights to Calicut International Airport (CCJ) in Karipur, facilitating transport of thousands of Keralite expat workers in the Gulf as well as Haj and Umrah pilgrims from the Malabar region.

“There is no obstacle facing operation of wide-bodied aircraft to Calicut airport,” said K. Srinivasa Rao, director of the airport, while speaking to Saudi Gazette.

“We are now awaiting the green signal from the Directorate of Civil Aviation for the operation of big aircraft and we expect the permission any time from now,” he added.

He said the airport’s newly constructed international passenger terminal would be launched either in August or September, adding that it would increase the airport’s annual capacity from three million to 4.5 million. He estimated the airport’s annual revenue at Rs2 billion. But revenue fell 30 percent while exports were down 80% after AAI denied wide-body aircraft.

Calicut (Karipur) Airport, located 25 km from Malappuram and 28 km from Calicut, is the main gateway to the Malabar region of Kerala. Thousands of expats who work in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries and Haj and Umrah pilgrims have been using the airport since its inception in 1998.

“We expect a decision by July 31 from the Directorate of Civil Aviation on operation of wide-bodied aircraft to Calicut,” said E.T. Mohammed Bashir, a Parliament member and a Muslim League leader. “The airport is now 100 percent ready to receive big flights,” he told Saudi Gazette.

Bashir said he and other MPs like P.K. Kunhalikkutty, P.V. Abdul Wahab, M.K. Raghavan and M.I. Shanavas have met with top officials of AAI, Civil Aviation and Air India to press for reinstating the previous status of Karipur.

“We have done everything possible,” Bashir said refuting allegations that mainstream political parties had abandoned Karipur.

AAI and Civil Aviation officials have inspected Karipur Airport and certified that it can receive B777-300ER, B777-200, B787-800 Dreamliner and A300-300 aircraft. The public sector airport, which is the 12th busiest in India and fifth largest in terms of revenue, was established with the support of non-resident Indians (NRIs) from Kerala.

After the airport was partially closed on May 1, 2015, the Airport Authority of India (AAI) banned operation of wide-bodied aircraft including Boeing 777 and B747-400 and Airbus 330 for the runway re-carpeting, which was long overdue, to ensure safety of passengers.

As a result of this ban Saudia, Emirates, Etihad and Air India shifted their flights to the private-owned Cochin International Airport in Nedumbassery, suspending their operations to Calicut. Even after the completion of re-carpeting work AAI did not allow operation of big aircraft.

“This delay has been causing huge losses for the airport authority and the government exchequer as well as the business community due to an unprecedented drop in cargo exports and passenger traffic,” said Hameed Vaniyambalam, state president of Welfare Party of India.

Apart from Welfare Party, leading political parties like Muslim League, Congress, CPM and a number of NGOs have been campaigning for the restoration of Karipur Airport’s status before May 1, 2015, to operate wide-bodied aircraft and allow operation of Haj flights.

“We expected AAI would allow wide-bodied aircraft after re-carpeting. But they delayed the operation of big aircraft for the benefit of the private airport in Kochi. We suspect there was a conspiracy involving politicians, government officials and businessmen behind this delay,” Hameed told Saudi Gazette.

He said foreign airlines including Saudia and Emirates have expressed their readiness to operate their flights to Calicut once they get the Civil Aviation’s green signal.

Previously, AAI opposed operation of big aircraft to Karipur, citing security reasons and said it required expansion of the airport and acquisition of more land.

“We have conducted a study and found that the airport has the capacity and facility to receive wide-bodied aircraft. We have also found that the Chaudhary Charan Singh Airport in Lucknow, which is smaller than Karipur airport, receives wide-bodied aircraft,” Hameed explained.

“During this (three-year) period we have noticed Cochin airport making good profit and distributing dividend among its shareholders,” he said. “The table-top airport in Karipur has better facilities than many other international airports that operate wide-bodied aircraft,” he added.

The Malabar Development Forum (MDF), which has been spearheading the campaign to restore Calicut Airport’s previous status, said it would continue its efforts to strengthen the airport and defeat the conspirators who try to cut its wings.

“We have presented a 1000-page feasibility study report to Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu with the support of V. Muraleedharan, a member of Parliament from Bharatiya Janata Party in Kerala,” said MDF president K.M. Basheer while speaking to Saudi Gazette.

He said he has full confidence in Prabhu that he would solve the problem within a few weeks. “We can now believe that our dream would be realized shortly. We have got evidences for the conspiracy to downgrade Calicut airport with the support of politicians,” he added.

Muslim Youth League organized a 10-day protest recently denouncing moves to downgrade Karipur airport after Welfare Party held a day-long program in Kondotty to highlight the issue. The delay in operating wide-body aircraft to Karipur has affected vegetable export from Malabar.

Kerala sends third largest contingent of Indian Hajis to the holy places in Saudi Arabia every year. About 85 percent of Keralite pilgrims belong to Calicut, Malappuram and nearby districts. The government has established a large Haj House in Karipur to accommodate pilgrims.