Monday, March 05, 2012

Bad planning, hard landing

CHENNAI: The extended secondary runway is proving to be a white elephant for the airport authorities. 

After spending 430 crore to extend the runway from 6,676 feet to 11,269 feet, only 2,000 feet more than the original length can be used.  Sources say the runway has become a casualty of bad planning and that it cannot augment the airport's aircraft handling capacity due to lack of space.

Constraints like a metro rail line and more space for installing instrument landing system and runway lights are the main reasons behind not been able to use the full length of the secondary runway. As air traffic grew, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) wanted to build a runway parallel to the main runway to handle more traffic. But, AAI had to shelve the plan as land acquisition was becoming difficult and decided instead to extend the 6,676-feet secondary runway into a full-fledged one. Officials decided to convert the secondary runway, which was used to handle small 7-seater ATR aircraft, into a taxiway linking the two runways, but did not factor in the need for extra land at the Manapakkam-end of the secondary runway.

"AAI did not factor in the need for additional land when airport expansion work was planned in 2006. The demand for more land, apparently to create a safety buffer zone, was made only after the runway was extended and a new boundary wall was constructed in August 2010. Officials also decided to have a simple lighting system on the extended end of the runway because AAI was not sure whether they will get the 15.5 acres they sought from the state government," said an airport official.

AAI chairman V P Agrawal recently announced that only 8,000 feet of the runway would be opened for service in April. The length of the runway will remain shortened until trees and tall buildings that lie on the flight approach path are reduced and more land is acquired to install landing lights and other landing aids.

Another feature that didn't help the airport authorities was the Chennai metro rail's decision to build an elevated line from the Officer's Training Academy to the airport. The secondary runway already has a displacement of 1,082 feet at the Trident-end. This is expected to go up because of metro rail's alignment even though it is underground.

A senior AAI official said discussions were being held to fix the displacement of the runway from the Manapakkamend. "We are looking at 1,640 feet of displacement. It is yet to be finalized. Discussions are on with different departments and the airlines," he said.

Airlines are pessimistic about the utility of the runway. "Bigger planes will not be able to use the second runway if the whole length is not usable and there are too many restrictions," said an airline official.

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