New ‘state-of-the-art’ ATC tower worth 350 cr gets flooded, raises concern over structural flaws
The newly built Air Traffic Control tower at Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA), expected to be operational by October 2018 and capable of handling at least one flight every minute, every day, was waterlogged when heavy rain pounded the national capital on June 9, panicking the handful of staff inside and exposing a suspected structural flaw in the building.
ATC controllers on duty at the time had to run down the flooded stairs of the 26-storey building, fearing electrocution, after equipment being installed inside the tower and the elevators stopped working. ATC was not controlling air operations from the new tower at the time.
“Imagine what could have happened if full operation had moved here. The entire air operation from Delhi would have shut down. This would have also affected flight operations up to Lucknow, Amritsar and Udaipur,” said an ATC officer on condition of anonymity.
Built at a cost of Rs 350 crore, the tower is expected to replace the existing ATC building in the next three months.
It is 101.9 metres high and adjacent to the present ATC building. Once operational, the new tower will be the tallest ATC building in India and seventh tallest in the world.
The present ATC tower is 60 metres high and was built in 1999; it is at a considerable distance from the third IGIA runway constructed in 2008.
At present, Delhi Air Traffic Control handles more than one flight operation every minute; 1,100 landings and take-offs happen every day along with 250 flights passing over Delhi with a different point of origin and bound for a different destination (such a plane leaving from Bombay and flying over Delhi to an airport in Europe). In all, more than 40,000 movements are handled a month.
Terming the incident “scary”, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) has now taken up the matter with senior authorities and has also informed the airport operator, the GMR Group-led Delhi International Airport Ltd, to rectify the “serious structural flaw” in the new building.
Confirming the incident, an AAI spokesperson said, “It was on June 9, during heavy downpour, that the water seeped in through the ceiling of the tower. Be it the elevators or stairs, there was water all around, even in the main area where equipment are installed. Taking adequate precautions, the staff was safely evacuated. The matter has been taken up with senior authorities and the GMR group, which carried out the construction and handed over the building to AAI, has also been informed for timely rectification of the design flaw,” said an official.
The AAI also said the incident had caused “serious concern” in the ministry of civil aviation and added that efforts were being made to ensure that it is not repeated.
“The tower’s first deadline to be operational was November 2014. However, following delays in construction and then in handing over of tower by the DIAL to AAI saw several deadlines pass by. If this was the condition, how can the airport operator approve the completion of the tower and officially hand it over to the government? If the tower had been solely functional, this incident would have resulted in a disaster,” said a senior officer from
the Delhi ATC, requesting anonymity.
Another controller at IGIA, who is not authorised to speak to the media, said the water inside the towers was stagnant and had sparked panic among the staff.
“At present, monitoring and parallel testing of the new tower is underway. The operations are being controlled from the older ATC. Once the new ATC, after a few months of parallel functioning, is declared fit for operations, the older one will be shut. Since the Air Traffic Control data automation system has been installed, installations of other equipment are in process. There are wires spread all around the floor which had sparked a fear of electrocution among the staff,” the controller said.
He said four to five staff members were inside the tower at the time and they all ran down; only one exit and entry point was available since the lifts had become dysfunctional. “They used sticks to keep the wires away and the matter was later reported to senior ATC officers,” the controller said.
DIAL said it was not aware of any such incident.
“The tower has been handed over to Airports Authority of India two years ago after thorough joint checks of all the systems and sub-systems. The premise is completely under the maintenance and supervision of the AAI since then,” a DIAL spokesperson said.
“Occurrence of water ingression during rain was not reported to DIAL and we are not aware of any such incident. DIAL reaffirms that water ingression in the tower top control room is not possible at all because of its highly specialized and foolproof facade fixing technology warranting any such evacuation. However, DIAL will certainly investigate along with AAI to assist and resolve any of their maintenance-related issues,” the spokesperson said.