Air travel mooted as alternative to Kerala rail project

Enhancing air connectivity mooted as alternative for Kerala semi-high-speed rail project

Against the 530-kilometre rail project, enhancing air connectivity may involve lower financial obligations

Representative image. Credit: iStock Photo

While the proposed semi high-speed rail project of Kerala is facing stiff resistance from various quarters, an alternative proposal of enhancing domestic air connectivity by setting up airstrips is gaining steam in the southern state.

Against the 530-kilometre rail project, enhancing air connectivity may involve lower financial obligations, less land acquisition and low ecological impacts. But, the higher travel cost and low ridership factors are cited by experts as drawbacks of considering air travel as an alternative to the rail project.

Kerala had earlier mooted a project for setting up a state government-owned airline, named Air Kerala, with the objective of offering low-cost connectivity to Gulf countries to cater to the large non-resident Indian population. But it was shelved as the norms stipulated five-year domestic service and a fleet of 20 flights.

Kerala Land Reforms and Development Cooperative Society founder-chairman C N Vijaykrishnan mooted the air connectivity as an alternative to the semi high-speed rail project. Kerala has already got four airports and a fifth one is proposed near Sabarimala Ayyappa temple.

He suggested in an article published in a vernacular daily that the cost for setting up some more mini airports handling 48-seater aircrafts and acquiring five aircrafts, in the initial stage, would be much less compared to the costs for setting up the semi-high speed rail line.

Former director of National Transportation Planning and Research Centre of Kerala B G Sreedevi said that enhancing air connectivity could be a better alternative to the proposed rail project as both the financial commitment of the cash-strapped government and ecological impact would be lower. She also added private airlines may come forward to operate services if there was adequate demand and the government would have to impose tariff regulations.

Technocrat E Sreedharan and former director of Thiruvananthapuram airport V N Chandran said that higher fares would not make air connectivity a better alternative. Chandran said that operational costs for short-distance flying would be higher and hence the fares would be also high. He also pointed out that a campaign against the environmental hazards posed by flights was also gaining momentum in European countries.

Environmentalists and experts are batting for improving the existing roads and popularising electric vehicles as the most ideal option for Kerala.

While the state government's cost estimate for the semi-high-speed rail project is around Rs 65,000 crore, experts maintain that the cost would go up to Rs. 1.25 lakh crore. Apart from the huge financial obligation, around 20,000 families will have to be evicted, the rail line poses a threat to natural water flow and the huge quantity of construction material required could lead to massive quarrying activities in the state.

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