In July, Kerala’s Kochi airport received the United Nation’s highest environmental honour for being the world’s first fully solar-powered airport. In August, most of its solar panels were reportedly damaged in floods that shut the airport for two weeks.
The flooding was not surprising since the airport, opened in 1999, was built after diverting a tributary of the Periyar river as shown in the map below.
In the past, bad planning and design have led to the shut down of major airports, including Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi. Yet, not much has been learned from such disasters: a new airport is being built by diverting the Ulwe river near Panvel Creek in Navi Mumbai.
Here are some of India’s other airports that are vulnerable to disaster because they have been planned and designed in flagrant disregard of environmental common sense.
Both the Mumbai airport’s runways obstruct the flow of the Mithi river. The first runway, along with the taxiway, extends over a culvert on the river while the second encroaches upon the river itself. When the river flooded in 2005, the airport had to be closed.
In 2011, the Chennai airport’s second runway covered a culvert on the Adyar river. In December 2015, when heavy rainfall led to water from the Chembarambakkam lake being released into the Adyar, the airport was one of the first major installations to be completely flooded.
Jaipur’s second runway was completed in 2016. Like in Chennai and Mumbai, the runway was extended on a water channel connecting a series of tanks in the city.
The airport in Renigunta is built between a series of tanks. As these maps show, it encroaches on lake beds, which are also threatened by much built-up growth and plotted development.
Not learning from disasters recent and past, the Rs 16,000 crore Navi Mumbai International Airport is being built by filling and diverting the Ulwe river flowing into the Panvel creek. The landfilling is already causing flooding in nearby villages.
The airport’s swanky new terminal, T3, was built on one of the lowest points of the chosen site. The graph below represents the cross section along the red line marking the location of Terminal 3. It shows that when it rains, water from surrounding higher grounds flows to this point, the reason for the airport’s flooding in 2011 and 2013.
Teja Malladi leads the Geospatial Lab and is part of the Risk Lab at the Indian Institute for Human Settlements. He works in the fields of natural hazard and risk and vulnerability assessment using remote sensing and GIS.