The Birsa Munda Airport in Ranchi has been operating without observatory radar for the past one year, potentially putting the lives of passengers at risk in a state with one of the most turbulent weather systems in the country.
The observatory radar, operated in the country by the India Meteorological Department (IMD) in all airports, provides crucial, minute-by-minute update on the weather above the airport, helping pilots navigate without a hitch during take-off and landing.
In the absence of the radar system, the airport authorities have been operating on inputs provided by met stations in Patna and Kolkata, both over 400 km away, and information from weather-prediction websites.
All airports in the country have weather offices run by the IMD which provides updates to airport authority every half-an-hour daily.
On a daily average, the airport – one among four operational in the state – handles nine flights to and from Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Patna and Bangalore.
Besides, one or two small, private aircrafts too operate out of the airport each day.
A modern, state-of-the-art airport with all modern amenities, the Ranchi airport handles nearly 5 lakh passengers annually with a clean safety record so far.
"A modern radar would help us in pinpointing accurate location of thunderstorm formations in advance and thus minimise or avert aviation accidents," said BK Mandal, director of Ranchi meteorological centre.
In August 2013, a violent tornado had hit the airport causing severe damage to the terminal building.
In the absence of a radar system, the met department was totally clueless about the storm formation.
Raghvendra Raju, director of the Birsa Munda airport, however, said that "all prescribed standards are followed" regarding weather information. He also added that so far they didn't have any major problem depending on weather predicting websites.
A senior pilot claimed that absence of radar could be dangerous specially for smaller aircrafts.
"It is dangerous for smaller planes as they do not have self weather radar systems bigger planes have. We have to depend on the IMD of Kolkata, Patna and Lucknow for accurate weather reports or use our own experience and analysis whenever we encounter harsh weather while airborne," said captain Mohan Kumar, flight trainer of Al Chemist Aviation.
The IMD unit in Ranchi was set up in 2002 and had a decade-old radar which has been lying dysfunctional since last year.
IMD sources said that Ranchi is prone to frequent "micro bursts", an intense and localised weather phenomenon involving violent bursts of air during thunderstorms.
Ranchi IMD data revealed that the capital experiences around 10-12 "micro bursts" between March and June though the phenomenon has been rare in the past few years.
An aviation expert said that when a plane is trapped in a "micro burst", it suddenly loses speed while landing and speeds up suddenly once the phenomenon passes over.
Ashok Bakhla, a senior scientist of IMD based in Delhi, said that airport doesn't have the mandate to install weather reading radars on its own. "The IMD sets them up as per rules," Bakhla added.
Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata airports get weather information from IMD's aerodrome meteorological offices.
Acting chief secretary Sajal Chakraverty said thet government had held talks with the IMD officials for installing a Doppler radar at the airport.
"They want a multi-storied building for its installation. We will have talks again to finalise what could be done in this regard," Chakraverty added.