Collision course

Sep 17, 2012, 06:33 IST | Bipin Kumar Singh

While airports authority of India officer permits flying helicopters at Juhu aerodrome even when runway at Santacruz airport is being used, Juhu ATC says it is a disaster waiting to happen

Considering the priority of Airports Authority of India (AAI) is to achieve highest standard of safety and quality in air traffic services and airport management, a recent recommendation by an aviation official flies in the face of logic.

runway 16/34 of Juhu airport
Choppy weather: As MiD DAY reported last week, runway 16/34 of Juhu airport will be closed from tomorrow, as it is in a bad condition. file pic

MiD DAY had reported on September 13 (‘Juhu airport grounded!’) that from Tuesday, secondary runway 16/34 of Juhu aerodrome would be decommissioned pending repairs, and main runway 8/26 cannot be used whenever Chhatrapati Shivaji Interna-tional 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. However, VSP Chinson, general manager (Aero-Western Region) of AAI, has recommended that Juhu’s runway 8/26 be used for landing and takeoff for helicopters ‘irrespective of the runway in use at Mumbai’, and 16/34 may be used for night parking choppers.

Juhu's main runway 8/26
Too close for comfort: A recent safety audit report said that Juhu’s main runway 8/26 cannot be used whenever Santacruz airport — which is less than two kilometres away — operates flights from its secondary runway 14/32, to prevent overlap of approach paths of aircraft. File pic

Juhu ATC consulted Captain Uday Gelli, president (Western Region) of Rotary Wing Society of India (RWSI), who stated that it will be ‘extremely dangerous for any flight to use runway 26 at Juhu when Mumbai uses runway 14/32’.

MiD DAY reported

“I am aware of this recommendation and irrespective of whether it is fixed-wing aircraft or helicopter, guidelines remain the same. The main runway at Juhu cannot be used when the secondary runway at Mumbai airport is handling operations. We are talking to all the competent authorities to convince them that this prescription cannot be implemented,” Captain Gelli told MiD DAY. “Flight paths of aircraft for these two runways are very close and it is not possible to use them concurrently,” Gelli maintained.

Skewed logic
Captain Mohan Ranganathan, member of Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Committee (CASAC) also endorsed Gelli’s opinion. “Doesn’t matter whether it is a chopper or a fixed-wing aircraft, flights cannot be allowed simultaneously on conflicting paths. If someone has made such a suggestion, it is flawed,” he told MiD DAY.

Chinson’s recommendation came after the AAI safety audit report barring the use of Juhu’s runway 16/34 from September 18. The other assessment made in the report was that if Mumbai uses its secondary runway, Juhu would not be able to use its main runway 08/26 due to conflicting paths. Hence, this traffic will be diverted to Mumbai airport and helicopter operators were given a week to make necessary landing/parking arrangements at CSIA.

Based on this report, Juhu airport issued two NOTAMs (notices to airmen) but these were not accepted by Aero-WR, AAI. Despite several attempts by MiD DAY, Chinson could not be contacted for comment on his recommendations, but a source close to his office said the suggestions were made based on guidelines in place.

The September 14 reply by Juhu ATC to Chinson squelches the content of his letter received earlier that day. “The flight profiles for runway 14 at Mumbai and runway 26 at Juhu overlap each other. In the vertical, the distance may vary from zero to 100 feet and in the lateral from zero to 500 feet. Under no circumstances, whether under visual flight rules (VFR) or otherwise, and be it a helicopter or a fixed-wing aircraft, is it possible for Juhu ATC to permit use of its runway 08/26 for landing whenever Mumbai uses runway 14/32,” the reply reads. MiD DAY has copies of both correspondences.

“Helicopters cannot maintain a prescribed path without deviation even in the interests of adhering to VFR norms of maintaining adequate distance/height from clouds, birds, and obstacles. Considering that instrument-rated pilots are required and suitable instruments are also required for helicopter routings, helicopters have to be treated as category “A” fixed-wing aircraft in this issue. Hence, whenever fixed-wing aircraft are banned from runway 08/26 of Juhu, helicopters also cannot operate on that runway,” Juhu ATC’s reply adds.

AAI sources also told this newspaper that traffic at Mumbai airport is very high and a NOTAM in place that doesn’t permit helicopter operations except VVIP movements from CSIA is the reason aviation officials are confused. “The traffic at Mumbai airport is too much. Through various policy decisions in the past it has been made clear that small aircraft operations at Mumbai will be entirely shifted to Juhu in future. If in such a scenario helicopter operations are shifted back to Mumbai, it would be a difficult situation to handle keeping in mind the busy nature of CSIA,” a top AAI source told this newspaper.

Even as the deadline for Juhu to stop operations on its secondary runway approaches, the AAI top brass has so far taken no decisions on about 100 helicopters operations that would be affected every day.  

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