Fulfilling a long-standing public demand for a second airport in Malabar region of Kerala, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Union Minister for Civil Aviation Suresh Prabhu on Sunday jointly inaugurated the Kannur International Airport. With this, Kerala became the only state in the country to have four international airports. Kochi, Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram are the other three cities with an international airport.
The greenfield airport, built on a public-private-partnership model, stretches across over 2,000 acres of land at Mattanur, a town 25 kilometres from Kannur town. Constructed at a cost of Rs 1,892 crores, the airport has an integrated terminal for domestic and international passengers, six aerobridges, a 3,050 metre long runway and can handle up to 2,000 passengers during peak hours. The airport will cater primarily to the people of Kannur and Kasaragod districts of Kerala and Kodagu region in Karnataka. It becomes an important and easy gateway for the thousands of NRI Malayalis working in the Gulf countries. At present, Air India and GoAir have released their schedule of flights from the airport, with more domestic airlines likely to commence operations shortly.
At the grand inauguration ceremony within the airport premises, attended by close to a lakh people, Vijayan and Prabhu jointly flagged off the first aircraft from the airport – an Air India Express flight to Abu Dhabi at 10 am. Passengers of the flight received a ceremonial welcome at the airport with ministers of the ruling Left government personally handing over boarding passes to them.
Prabhu, later addressing the function, spoke of how the airport project could be a benchmark for the country’s aviation industry.
“This is a great day for Kerala and the aviation industry. Kerala has a high potential for growth by creating world class infrastructure. This greenfield airport, built using futuristic technology is a symbol of how the future of aviation industry in India should be,” he said.
The Union Minister also expressed confidence that with commercial operations beginning at the airport, it will boost the state’s export of spices and marine products.
In his speech, Vijayan praised the leadership of late EK Nayanar, the Communist chief minister of Kerala in the mid-90s whose administration put into motion the first steps for the proposal for an airport at Kannur. He also lauded the contributions of CM Ibrahim, then union minister for civil aviation, who mooted the idea for an airport and backed the proposal. He gave a ‘big salute’ to the people of Kannur who always believed in the dream of an airport project in the district.
At the same time, the chief minister criticised the Congress-led UDF, without taking its name, alleging that it first opposed the project and then did absolutely nothing during its term in power from 2001-2006.
“I still don’t understand why they suspended all the work and did nothing during the 2001-2006 rule. It was after VS Achuthanandan of the LDF came to power that work began again at the airport. The process for land acquisition was completed during that period,” Vijayan said.
In 2016, the CM alleged, a grand inauguration ceremony was conducted by the previous Oommen Chandy government at the airport even though work had not finished.
“I don’t know what they inaugurated. They got a small Air Force aircraft, which could land anywhere, to land here. They got some people to attend also,” the CM mocked.
In response, Chandy, who was not invited to the function, said the people of Kerala cannot be wrongly swayed by anyone. “They know what happened. Anyway, I am not interested in any debate. This is a time to rejoice,” he said.
The Congress and its UDF allies boycotted the inaugural function, protesting the absence of an invitation to its former CM. State BJP leaders also stayed away from the function complaining about the CPM’s stand on the ongoing Sabarimala standoff.
Apart from Vijayan and Prabhu, the event was attended by EP Jayarajan, the state industries minister and the local MLA, KK Shylaja Teacher, health minister and MLA from Koothuparambu, Sreemathy Teacher, MP from Kannur, Thulasidas, KIAL managing director, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, the state CPM Secretary, Kadannappaly Ramachandran, Kannur MLA and ports and shipping minister, AK Saseendran, transport minister in the LDF government, K Krishnan Kutty, water resources minister and revenue minister E Chandrasekharan.
‘Huge feeling of pride’
Manoj PV, 45, who runs an interior design business in Dubai and hails from Mayyil in Kannur district, flew all the way home just so that he could be one of the first passengers on the inaugural Air India Express flight to Abu Dhabi.
After bidding farewell to her husband at the airport terminal, his wife Shimna Manoj told The Indian Express, “The tickets for the inaugural Abu Dhabi flight was sold off in an hour. But luckily, he got a ticket within the first 15 minutes. He landed at the Kozhikode airport a few days ago just to be on this flight. He always dreamt of flying from the airport on the first day.”
“It’s a great feeling to have an airport in my hometown. I’m very proud and very, very happy,” she added.
For Shimna and her husband, a trip to the airport got a lot shorter. Earlier, they had to depend on the airport in Kozhikode, which was three hours away and sometimes, even took as long as five hours during peak hours. Now, she says, a trip to catch a flight is just half-an-hour away.
Fathima Sharif, 48, was also there at the terminal with her kids to bid goodbye to her husband, Mohammad Sharif, one of the lucky passengers on the inaugural flight. Sharif works in a showroom lights shop in Dubai.
“The airport is very expansive and has all the facilities. It should have come a long time ago, but it’s fine. We finally have our own airport,” she said.