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With Juhu runway closed, chopper operations in limbo

The atmosphere was one of scepticism and mystification hours ahead of Juhu aerodrome shutting down its secondary runway for at least six months. That’s because the fate of nearly 100 chopper operations handled by the airfield daily remains uncertain.

MiD DAY had reported on September 13 (‘Juhu airport grounded!’) that as per a recent audit report issued by air safety department of Airports Authority of India (AAI), secondary runway 16/34 of Juhu aerodrome would be decommissioned pending repairs, and main runway 8/26 cannot be used whenever Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) —which is less than two kilometres away — operates flights from its secondary runway 14/32, to prevent overlap of approach paths of aircraft. The report recommended in such a scenario chopper operations be diverted to CSIA. However, the preparedness for the same is missing on the ground.

Juhu aerodrome
Wings clipped: The shutting down of Juhu aerodrome will affect ONGC’s functioning as over half of the total daily operations from the airport are made for the multinational oil and gas company by various service providers including Pawan Hans. File pic

Despite VSP Chinson, general manager (Aero-Western Region) of AAI not concurring with the aforementioned counsels of air safety department, and permitting helicopter operations at Juhu’s main runway irrespective of which runway CSIA is using at the time, Juhu Air Traffic Control (ATC) has made it amply clear that it does not see much merit in the GM’s suggestion. MiD DAY had reported the issue yesterday (‘Collision course’).

“As a pilot I can say that I will fly only if traffic is diverted to CSIA’s secondary runway. Even other pilots from Juhu will be extremely uncomfortable operating so close to the flight path of aircraft at Mumbai airport. It is not possible to fly under such conditions,” said Captain Uday Gelli, president, Rotary Wing Society of India (RWSI), Western Region.

Sources close to Pawan Hans Helicopters also corroborated to this newspaper that it is not possible to operate as per the recommendations made by Chinson.

When contacted, CSIA officials confirmed the scheduled runway closure at Juhu from today but refused to comment on the chopper operations.

Slippery slope
Meanwhile, the situation has hit Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) hard. Over half of the total daily operations from Juhu airport are made for the multinational oil and gas company by various service providers including Pawan Hans. If no concrete decision is reached today, then over a hundred ONGC workers — including top bosses and engineers — who avail the chopper services will not be able to reach their offshore office.

“The CMD (chairman and managing director) is very upset with the development. He visited Juhu airport on Friday and a detailed presentation
on the scenario was given to him in Delhi on Monday as well.

ONGC is in touch with senior AAI officials to resolve the issue. The company cannot afford to suspend offshore helicopter operations and for immediate relief, the office is likely to take up the matter with PMO,” a top ONGC source said. He added that three top officials from Mumbai division of ONGC are also in Delhi to negotiate the issue on priority with civil aviation officials.  

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