Floating Airports: A Realistic Alternative In India

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Just when it seemed that the construction of the Navi Mumbai International airport was finally picking up momentum, CIDCO (nodal agency for Navi Mumbai International airport) faces a new challenge in the form of land acquisition. CIDCO and the Bivalkar family (Pune) have been engaged in a tussle over the compensation that needs to be paid to the family.  Last month, the Bombay High Court ordered CIDCO to give the Bivalkar’s 12.5 percent of developed land in the area. This amounts to nearly Rs 1,200 crore for 20 acres. CIDCO has however challenged the order in the Supreme Court.

The existing Mumbai International airport will reach its optimum capacity of handling 40 million passengers a year by December 2014. With the standard of living rising in our country, India will need a number of additional airports in the coming decades.

The airport should have been operational by 2011. However delays in environmental clearances and compensation packages further impeded its construction. This has raised the total cost of the project to 14,000 crores, a far cry from the initially estimated cost of 4000 crores.

It wouldn’t be farfetched to consider the option of an offshore airport in Mumbai and other coastal cities, given the various obstacles of setting one up in the heart of the city. Firstly, given the shortage of land in cities like Mumbai, an offshore airport can considerably reduce the inefficient utilization of land.

Secondly, a major hurdle of setting up an airport on land is community acceptance. The proposed airport in Navi Mumbai will result in the displacement of seventeen villages. Understandably, six villages are considering going to court, who are of the opinion that the proposed compensation of 22.5 percent of developed land is too less. They are holding out for 35 percent of developed land as compensation.

Across the world, global cities like London too are considering the option of an offshore airport (off the Thames Estuary). London requires four new additional runways to cater to the growing demand and officials believe that an offshore airport can effectively solve this issue. Within Asia, South Korea, Japan and Hong Kong have all built airports on the sea.

All these regions have common problems of availability of expandable land, environmental concerns and community acceptance. Today the floating airports operating in these regions are one of the busiest in the world.

One major advantage of a costal airport is the ability to reclaim supplementary land from the sea in order to construct additional runways as and when required. Across India, land acquisition has always been a major problem, especially for infrastructure projects like metro systems and airports.

However when considering the option of building airports on the outskirts of the city, connectivity would become a key issue. Accessibility to the airports can be made easier for the people by having adequate transport networks in place in the form of high speed rail connectivity. Considering the amount of investment currently taking place in transportation projects (metros, monorails) across the country, this would definitely be within the scope of the government.

On the environmental front, the single most important impact of airports on its surrounding neighborhood is noise. People living near the airports often complain of high decibel noise levels. This also places operational constraints as planes that generate noise levels above a certain level are restricted from flying at night. An offshore airport could greatly reduce the impact of noise on the community as a whole.

India must learn from other countries like Turkey which has recently proposed to build the third international airport (first offshore airport) in Istanbul to cater to the increasing demand. The current airport is short on space to build additional runways as it is absorbed within the heart of the city. As a result the new offshore airport will be built between the Black Sea regions of Yeniköy and Akpınar.

More than sixty per cent of the world’s population of eight billion will be living in the cities by 2030. By considering offshore airports as an alternative, India could also possibly unlock the potential of building global coastal cities.

 

Somesh Chandran

Image Source: [http://www.ainonline.com/sites/default/files/uploads/subic-sbia-runway_web.jpg]

 

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