Taking flight: Does Chennai need a second airport and at what cost?

Civic and environmental activists question the feasibility of the greenfield airport in Parandur and suggest expansion of Chennai airport.

Ten lakes, two streams, 3,500 acres of agricultural land, 1,005 families and hundreds of plant and animal species — these are all under threat because of one development project. There has been a considerable buzz regarding the Chennai Greenfield Airport set to come up in Parandur on the outskirts of the city. But, not all the noise is positive. Villagers in Parandur have been protesting for almost 700 days and some have even boycotted the Lok Sabha 2024 elections, asking the government to withdraw the project.  

Yet, work is steadily progressing on the greenfield airport and the government is in the process of land acquisition, despite concerns raised over the proposed airport’s environmental impact.

“We have been protesting peacefully for two years, but government officials have not come here to listen to our grievances,” says Subramaniyan, a resident of Ekanapuram village, which is part of the land supposed to be acquired for the new airport.

Locals are worried about their homes and livelihoods, while environmentalists and civic activists question the feasibility of such a project. Does Chennai need a second airport? And, what cost are we willing to pay for this mega undertaking?

Read more: Chennai Airport a den of chaos and confusion for passengers

In part one of a three-part series on the upcoming greenfield airport, we examine the nitty-gritty of the project, how it came about and whether the existing airport in Chennai can be optimised instead of building a new one.      

About the greenfield project

Chennai airport  new
The boundaries of the proposed greenfield airport in Parandur. Pic courtesy: Google Earth.

According to the State government, 5,369 acres (2172.73 hectares) have been earmarked for the proposed Chennai Greenfield Airport (CGA) near Parandur in Kancheepuram district, 70 km away from Chennai. It will come up at an estimated cost of Rs 29,143.95 crore.

The new airport will accommodate a peak passenger handling capacity of 100 million passengers per year. The greenfield airport has been proposed as a secondary airport to the Chennai International Airport, as projections indicate an increase in passenger traffic at Meenambakkam. The existing airport may not be able to handle the numbers.

As per government documents, the airport construction will commence in 2026 and operations will begin in 2028. The government appointed Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation Limited (TIDCO) as the project’s nodal agency.

Chronology of events

Timeline Action taken
May 2007Former TN Chief Minister M Karunanidhi announced plans for setting up a new greenfield airport near Sriperumbudur and Tiruvallur taluks near Chennai.
March 2012As part of Tamil Nadu’s Vision 2023 document, the airport is planned to be built at a cost of ₹ 20,000 crore near Sriperumbudur
29th October 2021TN government asked AAI (Airport Authority of India) to formulate a Technical Pre-Feasibility Report
February 2022AAI officials visited the above sites in February 2022 and conduct a Pre-Feasibility Study
March 2022AAI submitted the report to the Tamil Nadu government
July 2022Parandur is selected as a project site by the government based on the study
16th August 2022Public consultation is held in Kancheepuram District Collector’s office
December 2022TN government issued tender to select consultants to prepare a detailed project report
May 2023Louis Berger appointed a consultant to do a Detailed Techno Economic Report (DTER)
June 2023Louis Berger begins work to carry out the DTER
31st October 2023Through a government order issued by Industries, Investment, Promotion and Commerce Department, Tamil Nadu, land acquired is deemed suitable for the project.
December 2023A Special District Revenue Officer (DRO) is appointed to begin land acquisition
23rd February 2024TIDCO applied for Environment Clearance (EC) to the MoEFCC
February and MarchNotification for the land acquisition was published in newspapers
13th March 2024TIDCO withdrew the EC application
2nd May 2024TIDCO re-applied for EC to the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change
17th May 2024EC proposal was accepted and referred to EAC (Expert Appraisal Committee).

Usage of Meenambakkam airport

According to an Airport Authority of India’s reply to an RTI filed by GIS expert and civic activist Dayanand Krishnan, asking for details of usage of the Meenambakkam airport in 2023, the current airport is largely used for domestic flights. Last year, the airport utilised only one runway (primary runway), despite having a secondary runway. The latter was used sparingly during the closure of the primary runway. Simultaneous use of both runways commenced just two months ago.  

Read more: Airport slum dwellers worried about multiple challenges in redevelopment plans

“Considering high aeroplane fuel costs and pollution caused by air traffic, there is a need to look for alternative transport like bullet trains and others. Already, the government has proposed the Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed corridor and the Chennai-Bangalore-Mysore high-speed rail project. If all major cities are connected through high-speed railway networks, air connectivity for domestic travel won’t be necessary. And for international travel and cargo shipping, the existing airports and its facilities will be sufficient to operate,” says Dayanand Krishnan. ” 

Data obtained from Airport Authority of India through RTI

A representation of how the Chennai International Airport can be expanded. Pic courtesy: Dayanand Krishnan.

“The Chennai Meenambakkam airport can be scaled up in the approximately 1,400 acres of land, which has been notified for airport expansion. If acquired, it can incorporate two new runways with a length of 5,000 and 3,500 metres each,” he adds.

Usage percentage:

  • Domestic — 71.5%
  • International — 22.8%
  • Cargo and NSOP — 5.6%
  • Average Daily passengers handled in 2023
    • Domestic — 41,600 passengers
    • International — 15,596 passengers
    • Total — 57,196 passengers
  • Total passengers in 2023
    • Domestic — 1,51,83,864 passengers
    • International — 56,92,629 passengers
    • Total — 2,08,76,493 passengers (~ 20 Million passengers)

Environment activists also point out that authorities have been tightlipped about why the proposed second expansion of Meenambakkam airport was shelved. Earlier, Manapakkam and nearby localities had been notified as industry purpose areas in the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority’s second master plan, which were withdrawn in 2021. 

“One of the reasons cited for the withdrawal of the expansion project was the high land value (nearly Rs 15,000 crore). However, as per the new plan for the second airport, a Metro Rail corridor needs to be built till Parandur, which is estimated to cost about Rs.15,000 crore. If the expansion plan was withdrawn because of the costs involved, then why is nearly the same amount being invested in this second airport project,” asks Vetriselvan, environmental activist at Poovulagin Nanbargal.

There are many such questions about the proposed project that beg for answers. In the second part of the series, we throw light on the environment impact and lack of transparency regarding environment clearances.  

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  1. Santosh says:

    Can anyone show me 3500 acres of land without agriculture, water bodies in tn. If we take any particular there must be agricultural activities. So stop spreading negativity. Second airport for Chennai is much needed bcz the peers Bangalore and Hyderabad moving ahead 10 years back itself

  2. Prahlad says:

    Chennai definitely need a Airport v badly either Parandur or Meenambakam ( extention of the current Airport ) building second Airport in Parandur on against of 1000 of families makes no point also commuting 70 km to catch a flight really waste of time .already Chennai Airport is in very bad shape and many Airlines are not showing interest .

  3. NK says:

    What cant they build a MUCH BIGGER SIZED airport in BACKWARD NON-FERTILE AREAS. Pannur has over 5000 acres of land which is mostly non cultivable land. Thiruvannamalai is also backward area. There are also 18 unused runways across Tamil Nadu.
    At 30000 crore rupees, a 100 airports can be built across Tamil Nadu. South of Madurai there is no single international airport. Tuticorin must be converted into an international airport.

    Bangalore legal hurdle for Hosur airport is only up to 2033. That is only 9 years aways. It will take easily take a decade to aquires 1000s of acres of land. It seems the govt of Tamil Nadu does not want to really expand the airport infrastructure across Tamil Nadu and are using Parandur to make money for their real estate company G Square, thats all.

    Land bank of of non cultivable land must be developed to build airports and sea ports across Tamil Nadu.

    • Shiva says:

      Land in Pannur is 4 to 5 times more expensive than parandur, also the areas around pannur have more number of obstacles around the area. The government has done its research based on sound logic and chosen Parandur. If you have proof that G square is getting undue benefits because of this then present it. Don’t quote bunkum theories on badly needed infra projects

      • NK says:

        Why cant backward areas like Thiruvannamalai be considered for a giant international airport. Bangalore they are already looking ar land over 100km away for a second airport.

        Vellore must also be immediately expanded into an international airport.

        Tuticorin, Hosur must have international airports over 4000 acres. Land is not too expensive.

        There are also 18 runways across TN, they must all be converted as airports, some even international. This includes Cholavaram in Madras.

        Karnataka is planning about 40 airports.
        TN with a bigger diaspora needs more airports across the state.

        TN must have a state airline with Madurai, Coimbatore, Tiruchi, Salem. Hosur, Tuticorin, Madras and Ramnathapuram as simultaneous hubs and direct flights across. Presently only Hindians operate airlines and TN is very underserved.

      • NK says:

        Look at G square propery developments there. Everyone knows this.

        Main airport in Meenambakkam must be also parallelly expanded. GST road must be made subway to expand the 2 runways for A380.

        New airport wherever it is must have minimum 4 runways, 2 is not enough.

        Airports must be taken over from Hindians who dont care for TN.

        TN govt must also start a Tamil airline for intra-TN connectivity.

  4. N N Murthy says:

    It is better to expand existing airport. It was a blunder by earlier government to protest against privatisation. Major international airports like Fraport, Changi , Singapore were keen in investing. Now the airport is in shambles, not able to accomodate wide body planes.

    • Shanmugam says:

      That’s correct. This useless govt should expand the existing airport.
      The parandur airport is just a reason to carry out looting and corruption of public money…

      • Shiva says:

        How? Tell me what the government should do to expand the present facility.

        • NK says:

          Hindi army land near by must be taken over at least partially for Meenambakkam expansion to accomodate A380. Hindi army dont need so much. They are good for nothing anyway. TN should take over Hindians’ AAI controlled airport. Hindians dont care for TN anyway.

  5. Shanmugam says:

    When MK signed in May 2007, at that time itself the useless government should’ve acquired all the required acres for the GF airport. Now people are protesting. All these years the government slept and allowed the real estate to proliferate and now struggling to get the land (even after huge cost) from the people. So, the govt is the main culprit…

  6. Sujesh says:

    Chennai Airport is indeed congested. The government can consider cholavaram where there is an airfield with runway. This could become a second Airport for Chennai. It would help in development of North Chennai also. Additional land can be acquired easily. Road connectivity is there already. May be metro rail can be slightly extended

    • Shiva says:

      Cholavaram airstrip is a tiny 350 acre facility with a runway which can barely handle an ATR-72 abutting one of the drinking water sources of Chennai on one end and a densely populated area on another. How do you expect the government to convert this into a second airport for chennai

  7. Arun says:

    No consideration of distance between two airports???

    Can’t they built new few terminals instead of airport???

    Real Estate lobby playing all across???

    Can’t this issue be taken to Apex Court for justice???

    In Kerala, Kannur airport is having no passenger, waste of public money

  8. Atharv says:

    Such large scale land acquisition in the city is virtually possible. Acquiring a small amount of land near St Thomas Mount for MRTS took more than 10 years. Even if Govt is ready to pay up the cost, people will go to Court and is going to be a bigger mess.

    It’s much easier to acquire land from farmers well outside the city. Sriperumbudur was ideal 10 years ago but there is no land available there now. Bangalore and Hyderabad got such airports . Chennai is falling well behind

  9. Preethi says:

    Govt should stop airport works at parandur… Let the people live.. if you want airport just expand the existing airport… Don’t play with the lives of people… It’s difficult to create a fertile land… Don’t destroy nature in the name of development… Leave Parandur

    • Shiva says:

      If you have so much concern for the farmers. Why don’t you also ask the government (both central and state) to stop building new highways, expanding present highways. All the airports that are undergoing expansion in Tamil nadu involves acquisition of farmlands, including Chennai that also should be stopped. A lot of areas in Chennai housing industries and IT parks in chennai used to be farmlands. Should the government demolish these as well?

  10. Sam says:

    It takes a visionary to conceptualize a project of this magnitude. Koyambedu was “remote” when the idea was mooted, so was the new bus stand, and now this second airport. While the need for the airport is established, think about the expansion of the city it will induce and the economic opportunities that will arise!

    • Shiva says:

      Exactly, these naysayers also spoke negatively about the greenfield airports for Bangalore and Hyderabad. Now these facilities are world class and have transformed these cities. Chennai needs the new airport, Period.

  11. Shiva says:

    Chennai airport is nearing saturation and desperately needs a new facility to meet the needs of its growing population. No amount of misinformation by your so called experts can change that.

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