AAI makes new bid to shut Juhu secondary runway
Even as helicopter operators were expecting a written assurance from the Airports Authority of India (AAI) stating the Juhu airport’s secondary runway would not be shut, the public sector company has mooted a new proposal that might lead to the runway’s closure.
On Monday, the AAI headquarters in Delhi sought height clearances for a new air traffic control (ATC) tower and a terminal building, which are likely to be built around 60 metres from the runway.
“If the structures come up, operations on the secondary runway will have to be stopped,” said an airport official, requesting anonymity.
The decision appears ironical because the AAI had ruled against its own officials’ report to close the secondary runway, in January, after a strong representation of chopper pilots, and independent air safety experts said the airport’s main runway alone is not safe for operations.
According to their presentation to the AAI, helicopters operating from Juhu airport’s main runway come in close proximity to flights bound for the Mumbai airport when it uses its secondary runway during emergency landings.
The decision also brought several upcoming buildings in the neighbourhood under scanner as the AAI had given them height clearance based on the assumption that the secondary runway would be shut.
“There is a strong possibility that the new proposal was mooted under pressure from the builders’ lobby. Developers had threatened to drag AAI to court if the height clearances were withdrawn,” said another official, requesting anonymity.
Earlier this week, the Rotary Wing Society of India (RWSI), a think tank for helicopter operations, had written to the AAI expressing concern over the delay in issue of written directives stating the secondary runway would stay open.
Air safety experts say this is the second attempt to stop operations on the secondary runway. On January 24, HT had reported about an AAI proposal to convert the main runway into a heliport.
Experts feared the proposal, if cleared, could be misused to dilute safety concerns raised over the secondary runway’s closure.
AAI chairman VP Agarwal did not respond to HT’s calls.