Modi government’s plan to construct an airport where the airstrip would double up as a highway could prove to be a commercial disaster and a security nightmare, feel experts.
Road transport and highway minister Nitin Gadkari had gone on record to say that such an airport was already being built in Rajasthan where the runway would be used both as a highway and a runway for planes. He had said the government would build more such airports in hilly and border areas like Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Tripura and border districts.
Gadkari’s announcement took aviation ministry officials by surprise. Officials at the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) , India’s aviation safety regulator, said no such proposal has ever been discussed with them.
“This (plan) sounds silly especially at a time when terror attacks have taken place at the Brussels and Istanbul airports,” said an official of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS), the country’s aviation security regulator.
Aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju had last month warned state governments to strengthen security at airports citing the terror attack at Istanbul’s Ataturk airport.
“Airports have become a valued target for the terror groups as it gathers attention all over and creates adverse psychological impact in the minds of our citizenry,” Raju wrote.
“There are examples of highways used as airbases, for military purposes, during critical times,” said Kapil Kaul, South Asia CEO of aviation consultancy Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.
In fact, last year in May the Indian Air Force landed a fighter jet on the Yamuna Expressway near Mathura. This was the first time a fighter jet, a Mirage 2000, had landed on a civilian highway. IAF officials had said such landings could be carried out in emergencies if an active airport is not available under certain circumstances.
However, even for that trial landing, all facilities like a makeshift air traffic control, safety services, rescue vehicles, bird clearance parties and other requirements were set in place by the IAF.
Landing a jet on a highway, however, is very different from using a civilian airport runway as a highway, said experts. “For an airport you need air traffic control, terminal building, hangars, taxiway bridges, scan baggages, frisk people and much more,” said a security expert, who did not wish to be named.
“Road-runway has limited commercial feasibility as on date but was a good idea and could be considered selectively subject to viability. Gibraltar International airport is used for commercial air traffic and is used for road traffic as well as the main road intersects with the runway,” Kaul said.