Trichy becomes India's fastest growing international airport
MUMBAI: Tucked away in a corner of Tamil Nadu, standing on a fraction of the area of Mumbai and Delhi's airports and overlooked by many international carriers, Trichy has in the past few years, become the fastest growing international airport in the country.
International passenger traffic in this southern town grew 382% to 773,423 between 2006-07 and 2012-13, jumping three notches more than bigger airports such as Goa, Lucknow and Amritsar, according to government statistics. This year, it is expected to overtake even Ahmedabad to become the tenth biggest international airport in India.
"We are expecting that either this financial year, or calendar year, the airport will hit the annual figure of 1 million passengers, and 10,000 aircraft movement," said H Ubaidullah, an independent analyst based in Tamil Nadu, who has done extensive research on Indian airports.
In the same period, Trichy cargo tonnage also registered the highest levels of growth, increasing 44% to 2,899 tonnes, jumping two positions up to overtake Goa and Amritsar. Over the past few years, India's smaller towns have often scripted faster growth stories than tier-1 cities.
In fact, the country's south Indian region has been exemplary, often growing at rates higher than the overall economy. Tamil Nadu has traditionally shown strong growth, although its economy slowed down to just above 4% last fiscal year, making it the only state to grow slower than the national economy, which is at its worst pace in 11 years.
Nevertheless, the southern region continues to account for the highest number of international airports in the country and controls the biggest chunk of its local and overseas air passengers.Trichy has grown despite its limited infrastructure. The airport's new passenger terminal built at a cost of Rs 80 crore spreads across 126,00 square feet. In comparison, the new terminal at Mumbai's airport which is said to be dealing with a space problem, spans 4.4 million square fee ..
Trichy also has the shortest runway among the top 15 airports in the country spreading 8,136 feet. Delhi has a 13,535 feet runway while Amritsar has a runway length of 12,001 feet. Trichy's phenomenal growth can be attributed to airlines such as AirAsia, which in 2008 discovered it as an alternative to Chennai to take on local rival Malaysian Airlines.
"Just like Kerala is for the Gulf, there's a huge Tamil settlement in the South Asian region and AirAsia, and airlines after it, saw that potential," said an analyst who tracks the airline industry.
About 600 passengers from Trichy travel to Kuala Lumpur and around 400 to Singapore every day, industry statistics show. Air India Express and Sri Lankan Airlines had operated at the airport, but got connected to Dubai and Colombo.
In December 2008, AirAsia started a daily flight to Kuala Lumpur at fares as low as Rs 12,000, about half its usual fares. The airline quickly scaled it up to three daily flights in the subsequent years even as it spread to other destinations such Madurai, Coimbatore and Kochi.
AirAsia still deploys the highest capacity in this city. Post AirAsia, Air India started connecting Trichy to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore while other foreign carriers such as Tiger Airways, and more recently, Malindo Air — a joint venture between National Aerospace and Defence Industries of Malaysia and Lion Air of Indonesia -- followed. Today, 5 airlines, which don't include a single private Indian carrier, operate 77 weekly flights out of Trichy.
"Trichy handles about 3,000 international passengers a day, of which about 30% are handled by AirAsia; Sri Lankan does about 25%; Tiger Airways 20%; Air India 15% and Malindo the rest," said Ubaidullah.
AirAsia enjoys over 80% seat occupancy in all its Trichy flights, said the analyst who didn't wish to be named. Trichy's geographical location in the state works in its favour: the town gets international traffic from more than 15 towns in Tamil Nadu like Thanjavur, Nagapattnam, Thiruvarur, Erode and Salem which don't have international airports.
The international airports of Chennai, Bangalore, Kochi, Kozhikode and Trivandrum are between 325 kilometers to 375 kilometers, while Coimbatore is about 215 kilometers.
However, while ASEAN carriers are currently allowed to fly to Trichy, current bilateral agreements with Gulf carriers don't include seat allocations to this city.
Also, the airport at Trichy doesn't have runways wide enough for double-aisle aircraft to operate, a reason which could prevent carriers such as Emirates to fly into the region.