Current Affairs

Is Mopa Airport Required ?

The past and present MLAs have all taken Goa for granted. They have treated Goa as their personal property when the fact remains that the State belongs more to the commoners than any of those sitting in high chairs at the assembly. There does not seem to be a clear cut solution or the need to find one in the conundrum regarding the airport at Dabolim and the proposed one at Mopa. Ministers, ex- Ministers, NGOs etc. and individuals like me have written innumerable articles giving our views in favour of or against Mopa and the Navy set-up at Dabolim. It is surprising and frustrating to note that we have neither been able to reach a common ground nor has anybody been able to make sense of what the other party is saying. Reason being, underneath it all, we have a steady mechanism in place that is pushing the Government’s Mopa dream forward. The facts and figures we come up with stating how negative the new international airport can be for Goa has been ignored if not completely shunted.

Firstly we need to look at our existing airport; Dabolim should be controlled by the civilian authorities. The Navy uses it for a limited window of 0830 hours to 1300 hours for training purpose. A lot of the land meant for airport use is used for housing and recreational facilities when the fact is, it can be used for civilian and commercial purpose. The main focus must be to upgrade the existing infrastructure available and move all non-essential facilities not pertaining to naval military exercises out of this area. Currently this airport may be under the Navy occupation but it is run by a civilian authority in the form of AAI. Let’s not forget that historically this was a civilian airport taken over by the Navy during the so called liberation.

Our experts who have a lot to say about the Dabolim airport not being sustainable need to look around the world and take examples. Every year I travel to Geneva and their airport is small but impressive. It has only one runway and two terminals like the Goa airport and in 2012 it catered to 13 million (13,899,422) pax with 192,944 aircraft movements. Have we pondered as to why passenger handling and aircraft movements are so drastically low at the Goa airport? 27,430 is a far cry from the big numbers being serviced at Geneva International and other airports around. An even better example is Rhodes International of Greece which also is a tourist destination and despite having a single runway and single terminal, the airport handles more movements than Goa currently does.

 

We cannot just keep constructing structures to satisfy the politicians’ greed at the sake of our beautiful State. Dabolim is close to the port of Mormagao which is an advantage for sea/air connectivity if the government chooses to develop the port for cargo and passenger liners. While there have been rumours of Mopa being a cargo hub how are they justifying it when we have a ready port which can aide our cargo needs at Dabolim? Also, statistics show that there is a global trend of diminishing cargo uplift by air as it is a more expensive option compared to other transportation options like surface (road/rail) and sea. It is also interesting to note that traditionally most cargo is transported using belly space in a passenger aircraft as it is cheaper and a viable option for both the airline and the shipper. Goa with its 6170 tonnage in 2012 does not by any means require a cargo “hub”. Goa has one of the best natural ports in the world, which is open throughout the year and is easily accessible from and to the Dabolim airport. Why take the airport so far away in the North distancing it from the port hub?

Surely making land available at Dabolim by relocating Navy’s residential and recreational facilities, we can develop the current infrastructure better to service not only the passenger traffic needs but also the needs of cargo and private jets. More parking can be facilitated and new rapid exit taxiways introduced to boost the number of movements (departures and arrivals) on an hourly basis. Another short runway can also be built for corporate and fighter aircraft as these do not require long runways. The area on the South-East at the end of the runway can be used for parking of smaller aircraft. Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) can also be accommodated at Dabolim airport; it is only the planning that is required. If the area taken on by the Navy is handed over or even reduced, Dabolim is capable of being a forerunner among the airports in India.

Rather than having subtle face offs through articles in newspapers, why can’t there be a great debate with all parties concerned being part of the forum. Existing Ministers, MLAs, experts, stakeholders and NGOs should be brought together to have an open discussion. You can bring your notes and your strongest argument along and try to prove a point, isn’t it better than doing something that leaves you with a “will it – won’t it” feeling? Even the Central Government should be involved; the Union Ministry for Civil Aviation must be a part of it.
Most MLAs have no true idea of what are the statistics and more so the requirements to have another International airport in a place as small as Goa. Their researchers do some shoddy job of downloading details from the internet and most do not even make an effort but copy paste as it is. How many bother about looking into accurate details of the pros and cons and various consequences of a new airport? These so called ministers, ex ministers and MLAs including Pratapsingh Rane should all be bold enough to enter into a debate with us. They should be upfront about the great benefit that Mopa will provide us with. It is not enough to say that Dabolim does not meet the requirements. Proper justification is required.

It is interesting to see that when the site for a new airport was being searched and identified Pratapsingh Rane pushed and campaigned for the site at Mopa. What is the reason? Do we know? We have ministers saying that Mopa is essential for the development of the Pernem taluka. Development can be in numerous ways. Are we branding destroying vegetation and wildlife as a form of growth? Why destroy the greenery and the natural beauty of the village for the sake of unneeded progress? Smriti Irani, someone who has no idea about Goa, when she visited Goa last month spoke about how Mopa is needed and will be good for the Goan economy. It is unimaginable how people pass opinion based on little or no information at all. How can a person not knowing or having in-depth knowledge of the State make a remark like that just because they belong to the party ruling Goa at the moment? I am flabbergasted at how this airport issue has taken a manipulative turn.

It is not fair to blindly accuse the Parrikar run Government for trying to make Mopa a reality as it first started with the previous seat holders. Even now Mauvin Godinho the MLA from Dabolim constituency is not coming clean with the necessary papers of the land, clearly showing that his brother and other relatives benefit from it. Although the BJP led Government knows, it is still under wraps.
The Navy too seems to be very boldly challenging anything asked by the Goan people. We do understand about the safety and security that Navy provides but we do not want it at the cost of our happiness and practical prosperity. An international airport should not be used for training purposes as the Navy does. Many airports around the World have a section of the airport cordoned off for the Navy but in a way wherein the airport is still under civilian authority. ATC management must be handed over to civilian entity as it will allow smooth flow of traffic. At the moment two organizations running the airport are like two captains guiding the ship.

In the article by Ramakant Khalap in a local newspaper that appeared on Sunday, 19 May, he has mentioned about Goa needing two airports and airstrips in Canacona and Dharbandora in Goa and places like Karwar, Gokarn, Halyal, Khanapur,Gadhinglaj, Malwan, etc. It baffles me as to how he has reached such a conclusion. Do these so called “experts” who are apparently working towards the development of Goa realise what it is to have aircrafts zooming in and out of an area let alone a vegetation and farming village? The environmental damage is unimaginable. While other countries are fighting to save their environment by opposing increasing number of airports, aerodromes or even airstrips our leaders are welcoming more and more.

One sentiment that has been echoed by most pro Mopa individuals is the comparison of how we Goans have embraced a lot of things that we opposed in the past. Little knowing that those issues were opposed for a reason and if the decisions were forced onto us without our consent, what could we do? The Konkan railway they talk about, look what it brought Goa, a whole lot of “bhaile” as Khalap calls them. Of course it has done us good but compared to the negative points – well, it is easy for us to see if we look around.

All we are asking for is a debate, a neutral ground to keep our thoughts in the open for all to see. Enough of this “article and social media” war, WE NEED ACTION. As time passes and while we are stuck with petty outcomes the Mopa airport will already have become a reality. It is headed in that direction anyway.
By providing correct statistical data to support my argument as to why we need only one airport and why the Navy needs to leave Dabolim I have made my stand clear. Anything that is beneficial to the State and its people should be definitely adopted but not something that will spell doom. The tax payers, our money, will be pumped into this project and as the costs rise so will the travel cost to recover the money in minimum time. Revenue however will take a long time to be generated and roll over to provide benefits but until then (and one cannot be sure how long) the Government will do all it can (like introducing unnecessary taxes) to extract more money from the travelers.

Some article writers are also of the opinion that Mopa can be a good hub this clearly showing their ignorance towards aviation. They do not have the slightest idea of how the airspace operates. Those who run tourism related businesses feel that they are aware of how the airport and the airspace functions. Little do they know that just by building an airport they cannot expect it to be a so called “hub”.

Environmental concern too is one of the most important factors when it comes to thinking of a mega project such as this. The noise and environment pollution due to the airport will destroy the village. Mopa will be stripped off all its greenery and sleepy by lanes due to this. Is it not enough that half of Goa is already destroyed owing to mines? Late Tourism Minister Matanhy Saldanha had gone on record to rightly say that “Goa is too small for another airport”. Firstly it is a small State, next do we even realize the consequences of another airport in a village? The pollution, noise, harm to vegetation that all this will cause? These issues are being raised, nearly every day but then again – who will listen? 

Inhuman destruction of our ecosystem and harming our beautiful land will continue. How can we let that happen over and over again? Why can’t better sense prevail? Deforestation is already a rage and will happen more so. A news report in Times of India on 30th January says that the Ministry of Environment and Forests is already in the process of giving a nod to MOPA. Despite of uproars, and anti Goa sentiment, it still is happening at a quick pace. The Airport Authority of India seems not to bother too much about the one State that brings so much of revenue and fame to the country because of its tag as the holiday capital of India. The number of tourists visiting each year is staggering.

Apart from debating that Dabolim is sufficient enough to cater to the air passengers flow to Goa there are other commercial and ethical issues to be dealt with before considering the MOPA project. It starts with the amount of expenditure that comes with building an airport. The first phase projection is 2,500 to 3,800 crores (CM of Goa Manohar Parrikar at MOPA review meeting on 23rd April 2012 as stated in Times of India of 24th April 2012)ALTHOUGH IT IS DOUBLE THAT AMOUNT AS OF NOW. Goa, I believe can use this amount of money to build its infrastructure such as better roads, public facilities, keeping Goa cleaner, making the beaches more secure and accident free, beautifying the Dabolim Airport to match with international standards etc. They should also focus on making the internal road transport system in Goa more active. Regular travels as well as connection of the airport to various other parts of Goa should be made hassle free by building roads and dispatching a number of buses on internal routes. Mopa will split resources and labor will be more expensive to gain, influx of more labor class from neighboring States will be another problem to deal with as most of them will not go back once the project has been completed as such has been a trend. Some Goans are speaking of how jobs will be made available, little realizing that it will again be a case of lower ranks being occupied by Goans and people of other States acquiring high positions. Honestly, how many of our youth who are educated in the aviation sector are still in Goa? Something to ponder about, isn’t it?

It is very surprising how Goa is not even tapping in natural resources for the benefit of the tourism industry instead of focusing on coming up with an airport that is not needed. A small island like Malta has 9 marinas, indeed shameful for Goa.

Now we also have news saying the Government will hand-over the Mopa land to the Navy. Why should the Government give this pristine land to them? It is, I believe, a crime to displace these people who have been working on their forefathers land, cultivating it and investing in it. The Government should in fact invest on the people taking care of Mopa by giving them subsidies to build sustainable industries in and around Mopa.

Here I ask, being an active participant of the Goa airport debate, for everyone to come to one platform to voice their concerns. It isn’t much to ask when our State is at stake. I don’t believe any of us are closed to ideas; we all have our opinions and our justifications. But our State needs correct decision makers now more than ever. We cannot have a mega project which comes up only to go ahead and be a complete failure which I assume it will.


(Vito Gomes, Founder & Managing Director – Aviation Services Management Ltd.)

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