Chennai is all set to get a second airport in the next few years with the Centre and state government rolling out the project to meet future demand. Chennai, which has many automobile companies as well as old manufacturing companies, is in need of a big airport.

The second airport is to come at a place called Parandur which is around 60km from the city. Last year, the state government announced its decision to build a second airport for Chennai to meet the increasing passenger traffic.

"Our end goal is to make Tamil Nadu a $1 trillion economy. For that we need to achieve $100 billion in exports and when we look at the infrastructure, we realise that in Tamil Nadu, specifically in Chennai, we need a new airport. This will be important for us to reach a $1 trillion economy," said a senior minister of the DMK government.

Chennai's existing airport at Meenambakkam will co-exist with the new airport that is planned to be built, and operate simultaneously.

"The existing airport (within the city) is not equipped to cater to our growing demands in the future so we certainly need a new greenfield airport which will take care of the future demands," the minister said.

He explained that the existing airport cannot be expanded as it has its own challenges of space and being surrounded by a hills, river, habitation and a defence establishment.

"With the present airport likely to reach saturation point soon in terms of capacity and with complaints pouring in from passengers about the congestion during peak hours and lack of hygiene, the government went ahead with its proposal to build a second airport at an estimated cost of ₹20,000 crore and subsequently identified 4,790 acres of land at Parandur," said an additional chief secretary.

Parandur was chosen as it is on the Chennai-Bengaluru highway and is also very close to Sriperumbudur which has all the automobile companies. "On a daily basis many CEOs as well as high-level officials of various companies land in Chennai airport and go by road to their factories. Once the new airport is ready, it will not take more than 30 minutes for the company officials to reach their factories," said the official.

The state government has appointed Louis Berger Group as a consultant, and the group has begun the work to carry out the techno-economic report for the second airport.

"Apart from the techno-economic committee, the state government has also appointed another committee to look into the local issues. The techno-economic committee will look into the water issues in and around the area which has been chosen for the airport," said the official.

Out of the total land area required for the airport, more than 50% (2,605 acres) are wetlands. Many activists and experts, apart from the villagers, had voiced dissent, fearing that it may cause serious damage to the environment.

Both the committees are expected to submit their reports by end of this year. "Based on the reports, the government will call for tenders. Once the tender is finalized, the work will start and it will take around 3 years for the airport to be ready," said the official.

Government sources said that both Tata Group and Adani Group are trying to win the contract to build the new airport. Recently Adani Group chief Gautam Adani as well as Tata Group CEO N Chandrasekaran called on chief minister M K Stalin and held discussions on various projects coming up in the state as well as the new airport.

The project, though close to Chennai city is going to come up on agricultural land and since the announcement, people in 13 villages which will become part of the airport are protesting against the project.

"The project with a total area of 4,791 acres covering about 13 villages has seen vociferous protest with residents consistently objecting to it as they will have to give up their land, thereby severely affecting their livelihoods. Talks with the protesters are going on and we are hoping to get the lands as it will be of great benefit to the local people more than anyone else," said the official.

Even while negotiations with the government are on, the villagers continued their agitation. "February 12 became the 200th day of the agitation. The villagers had planned a massive show of protest. A few environmentalists from Chennai were to join the protest. But a strong posse of police prevented the entry of activists from Chennai," said M Vetriselvan, an advocate and office-bearer of Poovulagin Nanbargal, an NGO, who had gone to the village to join the protest.

The high-level committee is holding talks with the villagers and has announced compensation. "The villagers are seeking ₹3 to $5 lakh per acre as compensation and we are ready to pay the market value of the land. We are hopeful of finding a solution to acquire land for the airport," said the official.

Connections to the new airport is also a major point of concern, with the Chennai MetroRail becoming the first to get a nod to have a line running from the new airport to the city.

"The Chennai Metro Rail (CMRL) has planned to further extend the Metro rail service in phase II by 93 km in all 3 corridors of phase II. The extension of Corridor 4 (from Poonamallee to Parandur, where Chennai's second greenfield airport is likely to be built) will be approximately 50 km,” said a senior MetroRail official.

"The master plan for the new airport is being readied. Once that is ready, we will hold discussions with the Airport Authority of India (AAI) for operating trains inside the airport. As the trains will be fast, the tracks and train coaches will be different on this line," said the MetroRail official.

At present soil test is being conducted, and very soon a detailed project report will be prepared. "We have got the approval from the Centre to link Chennai city with Parandur airport. We have started testing the soil to decide whether to have an underground rail or overhead. Once the test reports are submitted, we will decide on the DPR and work will start after that," said the MetroRail official.

Apart from the MetroRail, the state government is also planning to have buses which will link the city suburbs or the old rail line stations to the airport. "We have plans to have buses from suburbs to the new airport which is likely to be ready by end of 2027. So, we have time and we will take a call about having buses from various places to the new airport," said a senior state transport department official.

Thus, at the end of this decade, Chennai will have a big greenfield airport and the city will expand beyond the currently defined borders.

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