Monday, March 10, 2008

Post-shift to BIA: HAL test flights could threaten residential areas

Post-shift to BIA: HAL test flights could threaten residential areas
Monday March 10 2008 10:04 IST

Nirad Mudur

BANGALORE: Heavily-populated residential areas in the flight paths of aircraft landing or taking off from HAL airport will be exposed to real threat, with an increase in military test flights there, after commercial flight operations shift to Bengaluru International Airport (BIA) at Devanahalli over the month-end.

Aviation experts believe the very concept of a test flight from HAL airport threatened residents living under the flight paths.

The HAL airport has a record of flights crashing just after take-off or before landing, only one being a passenger aircraft - the Mumbai- Bangalore Indian Airlines Airbus 320 which crash-landed on February 14, 1990- short of the runway on the fringes of what is now the Karnataka Golf Association.

While the latest of the air crashes was a six-seater company aircraft that crash-landed near Gowdanapalya Lake shortly after take-off from HAL airport in mid- 2007 (killing all four on board), the preceding crashes included a helicopter belonging to HAL’s Rotary Wing Academy on February 13, 2004, which crash-landed on HAL airport runway (injuring an instructor and a trainee), an IAF MiG-21 which crashed on October 27, 2005, soon after take-off due to lack of engine thrust (killed one pilot), and a Kiran Mark II trainer aircraft which belly-landed on the runway on February 6, 2007, injuring the two pilots.

“Luckily none have come down on residences, but it could be very risky now for residential areas with military test flights increasing their frequency when the HAL airport becomes completely free for them,” said an expert who served on the Ramanathan Committee constituted to scout for an ideal location for a new international airport for Bangalore in the 1980s.

Senior officials at both National Flight Testing Centre (NFTC) and Aircraft Systems and Training Establishment (ASTE) admitted that when commercial operations shift to BIA, the airport would be totally available for them to conduct more test flights.

The Devanahalli airport has hardly any residential areas in its vicinity that stand threatened by test flights. Moreover, being located closer to the IAF transport training base at Yelahanka could prove logistically more convenient.

According to Pete Field, former director, US Naval Test Pilot School, it is important for local authorities to zone approach landing corridors of already established airports, so that the land use underneath the corridors disallows residential construction.

This is too late to do at the HAL airport. The onus lies with civic authorities to conduct such studies to restrict residential areas in the flight paths at the BIA in Devanahalli and let test flights be conducted there.

The local community should voice objections to the Bangalore authorities, to see if there are (flight) approach corridors that offer less risk to the citizenry, Field added.


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