1980s – the Gulf boom has started to change the face of Kerala. With more and more getting employment in the Middle East, the small Navy controlled airport in Kochi is bursting at its seams. Technically too, the small airstrip is not made for passenger aircrafts. Even the narrow bodied Airbus A 320 and Boeing 737 needed 7000m runway and the Willingdon Island Airport was just 6000m long. The Government has to act.
The State government approached Union Government. A meeting convened in 1991 in New Delhi asked the State government to identify an alternate location. V J Kurian, the then District Collector was deputed to the state to find options. In a shortlist of option National Airports authority chose Nedumbassery, a small village near Angamaly, north of Kochi which had huge tracts of vacant land. But NAA was short of funds. Thus began the story of CIAL.
Initial rough estimates for the project was 200 crore rupees. A seemingly unsurmountable task. But V J Kurian and his strong willed team took to the challenge. NAA reassured technical assistance once the initial investment was made. The team tread a new path seeking to build the airport as a PPP intiative i.e, raise money from the users ( mainly NRIs) in a partnership model. Then CM Late K Karunakaran gave a nod to the proposal.
Kochi Internationl Airport Society (KIAS) was established with the CM as Chairman and V J Kurian as the MD. The Society had humble beginnings. The extremely successful land acquisition for the project came to be known as the CIAL model and became a matter of study in leading business schools like Harward. Money came in as contributions from NRIs and others. But by 1993 only 4 crore was mobilized. KIAS being a charitable society had limitations in financial transactions. This led to the birth of CIAL, a Public Limited Company.
A core team of professionals and officials was formed to realize the dream. They were drawn from diverse streams like finance, airport technical wing, legal, land revenue etc. Now the terminal designs by a US based consultancy were found to be too expensive. V J Kurian took a tough decision. He asked the home turf grown KITCO to design the terminal, a first for them. But the decision paid off. The team at KITCO came up with a wonderful design in consonance with the Kerala architecture at one fifth the cost.
A big loan from HUDCO in 1995 gave the final thrust. CMs of Kerala beginging with Late K Karunakaran, A K Antony, and Late E K Nayanar had the political will to see the dream realize. In 1998, workers worked round the clock and all the authorities also lend support. And finally on 25th May, 1999, the airport was formally inaugurated by Honourable President of India, Sri K R Narayanan.
On 10th June 1999, the first commercial flight of Air India took off the runway. Incidently, it is the only airport in India to be inaugurated with an international flight.
Today, CIAL has proven beyond doubt its ability and the vision of its leadership. The work on the second international terminal is progressing fast and will be completed by 2016. The large 15 lakh sq ft. terminal will be equipped to handling the ever increasing traffic. Aerotropolis, a complete integrated township, CIAL Golf and country Club, the MRO facility and training academy by subsidiary CIASL are just few more feathers to the cap. Future will see further growth in this PPP initiative.