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Rain hampers runway expansion work

S. Ganesan

TIRUCHI: The recent spell of rain has set back the progress of runway expansion work at the Tiruchi airport.

With certain parts of the airport area being low lying, the project had to be stopped for a few days owing to water stagnation. Though airport sources said work had begun again they conceded that the temporary suspension would push back the completion date of the project.

The sources said the work would be completed by January, another time overrun of about two months.

The project was originally scheduled to be completed early this summer but suffered delays, owing to "slow pace" of the work.

Officials of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) had then assured that the work would positively be completed by November. The AAI, which is not very happy over the issue, is pulling all the stops to complete civil, electrical and other related works simultaneously.

The repeated time overrun suffered by the project has caused considerable consternation and exasperation among the members of the air travel industry here.

For, already a few air carriers, including Malaysia Airlines, are waiting in the wings to start operations from Tiruchi. The airlines had planned to start operations on the Tiruchi - Kuala Lumpur sector by this winter but had to defer the plan to the summer schedule of March 2006. Travel industry sources here said it was unlikely that the foreign carrier would be able to start operations by March given the uncertainty over the completion of the runway work. "It will be tough to ask the airlines to commence operations by March even if the runway expansion were to be completed by January," said a travel industry official.

Meanwhile, Indian Airlines, which is already operating to Sharjah and a few other Gulf destinations, is also stated to be close to firming up its plans of operating flights to Singapore and Dubai from here.

The national carrier is keen on tapping the enormous potential for direct flights on these routes projected by the travel trade. The introduction of additional flights would also provide direct daily two-way connection between Tiruchi and Chennai, for which the local industry has been clamouring for long.

"We would be losing out on some big business each passing month, especially in view of the fast pace of expansion activity at the Madurai airport, which could emerge as a serious competitor for Tiruchi soon," they said.

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