Sunday, May 11, 2014

'Pricey' airport road takes toll on Jakkur flight school

Exorbitant tolls apart, the elevated highway (EH) to the Kempegowda International Airport has threatened the safety of pilots and aircraft of the historic Government Flying Training School (GFTS) at Jakkur by rendering unusable half of its crucial runway. The State government, however, seems unconcerned about the issue.

Thrown open to public earlier this year to ease the traffic to KIA, the National Highway Authority of India’s (NHAI) EH is now considered as violating Section 9 (a) of the Indian Aircraft Act, 1934. Following a legal suit, the government had frequently convened series of meetings to find a solution.

In a meeting on January 3, 2013 chaired by then additional Chief Secretary Subir Hari Singh, the Director of GFTS explained how the EH endangers the life of trainees at GFTS who “are unable to take off and land safely”. He pointed out that the 854-metre-long runway has been reduced to just 413 metres.

Solutions discussed on this occasion included extension of the runway, realignment and raising the height of the runway and reducing the height of the EH to ground level. After rejecting three suggested solutions as unfeasible, the proposal to lower the EH was agreed upon in the meeting.

“It requires one year to complete the EH. By then, it can be reduced to ground level. Similar arrangement is made near Yelahanka airbase, where the EH has been reduced to the ground level due to runway,” the GFTS director had said.

The NHAI initially admitted that clearance of Jakkur aerodrome was not taken before the project began. Later, then Chief Secretary S V Ranganath wrote a letter to R P Singh, Chairman, NHAI on February 2, 2013 and reminded him of the proposal to lower the EH. Surprisingly, the NHAI went ahead with the project and completed it.

The matter reached the High Court with Agni Aerosports and Captain Aravind Sharma seeking to save the airfield. However, the government made a U-turn. On February 6, 2014, in a meeting headed by Chief Secretary Kaushik Mukherjee, the decision to lower the EH was not discussed. Solutions which were rejected—extending the runway and making it a tabletop runway—were considered.

Later, in an affidavit before the Court, the Chief Secretary has not mentioned any details, but says, “The State will come out with a ‘viamedia’ solution”.

The GFTS, run by the State government, was started in 1950 with the help of erstwhile Maharaja of Mysore. It is said to be the oldest flying school in the country.