AAI to punish whistleblowers?

A quick survey of the flip-flop of aviation authorities regarding the fortunes of Juhu aerodrome is enough to leave anyone giddy. Grandiose plans announced on occasions have sent out the signal that the beleaguered airport is set to take off in a big way.

Juhu runway
File pic

On the other hand, efforts of certain Airports Authority of India (AAI) officials — allegedly in cahoots with local builders — to virtually shut down the aerodrome seem to be triumphing. Instead of launching an investigation, aviation bigwigs seem to be in a rush to bury the matter.

MiD DAY had first reported on May 15 (‘AAI officers wanted to shut down Juhu runway to help buildings stand tall’) about the unholy alliance between some AAI big shots and the builders’ lobby, endeavouring to close down one of the runways at the aerodrome for furtherance of building projects. The records suggest the officials attempted to mislead the appellate committee of aviation ministry, Government of India, through their report, stating that runway 16/34 of Juhu aerodrome is not fit for operations. In response to this, the aviation safety department of AAI said that the two officials — JMS Negi (now retired, but working as a consultant for special projects) and VK Dutta — have blatantly lied in their report to the committee.

The reports that were published in MiD DAY on May 15
The reports that were published in MiD DAY on May 15

Speaking with this newspaper, AAI chairman VP Agrawal termed the aforementioned suspicions as unnecessary interference and maintained that the runway is not very vital as it is in poor shape.

The reports that were published in MiD DAY on May 7
The reports that were published in MiD DAY on May 7

“Negi report is correct. That stretch (16/34) is not important as far as operations are concerned. We have accepted the findings about a year ago and NOCs are being given to housing projects coming into the approach path of this runway,” he said. When he was told about views of several AAI officials and pilots, who claimed the report is bogus and was made only to benefit builders, Agrawal quipped, “This interference was not required as the issue doesn’t concern that particular department. We are in process of rectifying the mistakes made to ensure that the Negi report is implemented properly.”

The study was conducted under the then executive director, air traffic management (ATM), AAI, JMS Negi. As per his report — dated May 6, 2011 — that also carries the copy of his study ‘Aeronautical Study of Horizontal Surface-Juhu Airport, (Mumbai)’ on different runways, Juhu aerodrome runway 16/34 was not specified as operational runway by the airport directory since no declared distances were provided.

The findings also mentioned runway 16/34 coming into the approach and takeoff path of Mumbai airport runway 09, and that therefore it was not feasible to use 16/34 for operational purposes in any combination.

The report recommended that approach surface of the runway need not be considered for the purpose of NOC, as 16/34 cannot be used in any arrangement with respect to Mumbai airport.

Negi’s findings were soon challenged by Mangala Narasimhan, deputy general manager, aviation safety with AAI (western region), who said that the conclusions were erroneous and the recommendations were made to benefit builders and buildings coming up in the approach path of 16/34.

AAI and the civil aviation ministry never took her counsel very seriously and no inquiry was ordered on the matter.

When this newspaper further probed the issue it found that concerns raised by Narasimhan on the Negi report were valid. Negi’s findings that airport directory of AAI has not specified 16/34 as a runway since no declared distances have been provided, were proved to be incorrect.

The AAI website, which was last updated on August 19, 2010 — before Negi started the study — did have the requisite information, as pointed out by MiD DAY on September 7 (‘Why some aviation officials want to close this rundown runway’).

Several chopper pilots operating from Juhu airport, also opined that the Negi report is full of falsehoods meant to profit developers. ONGC, which requires over forty chopper services every day from the aerodrome, has also raised the issue with the aviation ministry.

The AAI chairman was very prompt in answering whether any action would be taken against officials who raised doubts on the Negi report. “Now our priority is to rectify the errors. We may think of taking steps against those officials next,” he told MiD DAY.  

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