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Why some aviation officials want to close this rundown runway

On May 15, MiD DAY had highlighted (‘AAI officers wanted to shut down Juhu runway to help buildings stand tall’) an unholy nexus between some Airports Authority of India (AAI) bigwigs and the builders’ lobby, endeavouring to shut down one of the runways at the aerodrome for furtherance of building projects. Fresh documents now available with this newspaper further authenticate the report and also establish that the study supporting the closure of the runway 16/34 is questionable.

Runway
Split wide open: The derelict runway 16/34 at Juhu aerodrome. File pic

On February 28, 2011 the appellate committee for NOC under Ministry of Civil Aviation through letter number AV10932/003/2009-AAt pt.t, issued instructions to conduct an aeronautical study for Juhu airport in respect of inner horizontal surface (IHS). A committee under then executive director of Airports Authority of India (AAI) JMS Negi undertook the study and completed the same on May 6, 2011. Interestingly, while alluding to Juhu runway 16/34 in the report, Negi went on to say that it is not feasible to use it for operational purposes in any combination as it directly affects flights at Mumbai airport. One line in the same paragraph of the report reads, “As per airport directory of AAI, 16/34 has not been specified as runway as no declared distances have been provided.”

Fine print
Investigation conducted by this newspaper raises serious questions over remarks made by Negi in the IHS report. The AAI website, which was last updated on August 19, 2010 — nine months before Negi completed his study — carries the declared distances of runway 16/34. Negi could not be contacted despite repeated attempts by this newspaper.

The aforementioned facts have already been brought to the notice of AAI, but instead of withdrawing the dubious report, the authority’s headquarters in Delhi has issued several notices to Juhu airport officials. “There are always conflicting views in such matters. The headquarters will consider all opinions and will take appropriate measures at an appropriate time,” said AK Sharma, executive director (western region), AAI. 

Mangala Narasimhan, deputy general manager, aviation safety with AAI (western region), who is also a whistleblower in the case, has been writing to top authorities including aviation minister, aviation secretary, DGCA director and AAI chief about the alleged bureaucrat-builder nexus supporting closure of 16/34. However, nothing concrete has been done to address the concerns. In her recent letter to the aviation minister (copy with MiD DAY) she said, “ The ‘declaration’ by corporate headquarters (CHQ) AAI that runway 16/34 of Juhu is ‘non-operational’ is wholly invalid. This has been done as part of insidious means for closing down Juhu airport just to grant NOCs for excessive heights to buildings in the areas nearby. Ministry of civil aviation (MoCA) officials are now fully aware of the lies in Negi’s report and the implications of the mala fide ‘declaration’ of runway 16/34 as ‘non-operational’.”

Utter neglect
In the midst of all these controversies the condition of runway 16/34 is turning worse. Potholes have emerged, and while operators have written to authorities about the derelict condition many times, it appears officials determined to shut down the runway are in no mood to repair it. “Using Negi’s lies in his report on the ‘Aeronautical study of Juhu IHS’, officials in CHQ, AAI and the regional headquarters (RHQ), western region, Mumbai, are now refusing to initiate the process of resurfacing of runway 16/34 of Juhu,” Narasimhan mentioned in her letter.

Requesting immediate intervention from the civil aviation minister, the officer iterated, “You are the last person I am appealing to in the MoCA as all others with decision-making powers in this matter have taken wrong/no decision. I pray that you will take the initiative in correcting all the flawed choices made by AAI and MoCA so far and set a definitive example for all of us.”

Did you know?
16/34 is the secondary runway of Juhu aerodrome — the nation’s oldest and the city’s only airport till 1942. 16/34 caters to about 40 per cent of the total daily operations at the aerodrome. The runway, currently, does not cater to fixed-wing aircraft. According to officials, 16/34 was used in emergency situations like World War II. 

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