Flight movement at the city airport was delayed by about 15 to 20 minutes early on Monday morning after a safety fence deployed on one end of the main runway, to protect workers and hutment dwellers living around along the boundary from jet blasts, was found collapsed.
A jet blast is a massive movement of hot air which an aircraft engine blows before take off. The main runway was shut for two hours after the jet blast deflector (safety fence) was found broken, and operations had to be shifted to the smaller runway, resulting in delays.
Around 3 am, officials from the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) found that the fence was lying on the ground as the foundation had given way, and alerted an airport safety vehicle that was doing its rounds.
Confirming the incident, a Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) spokesperson said: “It is not clear how the fence collapsed,” said the spokesperson.
According to airport sources, the fence could have been weak owing to poor maintenance, or a flight taking off in the wee hours could have released excess pressure, causing the fence to break.
Sources said that the problem could have resulted in a safety lapse, had it not been identified in time, as the jet blasts can be harmful. Two or three flights could have taken off from the end of the runway, oblivious to the lack of protection.
“Luckily, the problem was addressed before any safety lapse. Jet blasts could harm airport staff as well as people living in slums around the airport,” said an airport staffer who did not wish to be named.
In June 2008, a jet blast from a cargo flight taking off from the same end of the runway had killed a slum dweller and destroyed 25 hutments in Jarimari in Kurla. Wide-bodied jets such as Boeing 747 produce a draft of up to 160 kilometres per hour.