Air of uncertainty dogs Patna airport

The aged aircraft, while landing at Patna, missed the runway while taking a 360 degree turn without maintaining the right altitude and hit the residential quarters. The crash had exposed the shortcomings of the Patna airport, particularly its proximity to the zoo and short runway (not feasible for landing aircrafts like Airbus 321, Airbus 300 or Boeing 747).
Air Marshal P Raj Kumar, who had investigated the crash, later concluded that the accident occurred due to fault of the pilots, who had opted to make about turn while maintaining high altitude leading to the loss of control over the aircraft. In his report, Kumar had recommended relocation of the airport, expansion of existing runway, better training of pilots and adoption of other safety procedures. Most of the recommendations have not been implemented.

Most ‘critical’ aerodrome
But after the air crash in Mangalore (May 22, 2010) which took about 170 lives, the Patna airport has been virtually asked to shape up or ship out. A safety audit by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has identified the airport (also known as Jayaprakash Narayan International Airport) as the most ‘critical’ aerodrome in the country. Though the audit report has identified 11 other airports as equally critical, the civil aviation ministry, citing safety reasons, has threatened to shut down Patna airport if the Bihar government does not make necessary infrastructure changes.

“The ministry has asked the state government to either relocate the critical 6,000-foot airstrip, which is fit to operate only small aircraft, or suggest ways to improve and expand the airstrip,” the report said.

It may be mentioned here that the Patna airport has one of the shortest runways in the country. Officially, the total length of runway is 6,409 feet, but only 5,061 feet is in use. The rich shrubbery on the eastern end and the railway cabin with its overhead traction lines on the south-western part reduce the effective runway length by 439 feet and 909 feet respectively.

After the pilots complained to the Airport Authority of India (AAI) about the short runway length, the AAI proposed to the Bihar government to either allot land to develop a new airport, or shift the existing one to Bihta, some 30 km from Patna. That proposal has hit a dead-end.

The Patna district administration is apparently averse to the idea of shifting the base to Bihta — a defence site. Reason: Unavailability of free land, and the need to shift NH-30. It instead proposed the airport be shifted to Nalanda, Nitish Kumar’s home town. But the civil aviation department is against shifting it to Nalanda. It says that the road journey time from Patna to Nalanda would be more than the travel time between Patna to Delhi (1 hr 25 min).

Besides, sources say, that even if the greenfield airport at Nalanda (proposed site between Harnaut and Biharsharif) — a distance of 70 km — is linked with the state capital by an expressway, the travel time would still be more than that required to cover 30 km between Patna and Bihta — an airbase — on a four-lane highway.

Though the civil aviation ministry reminded the district administration about the need to complete the feasibility survey for shifting the airport to Bihta on a ‘priority basis’, the Bihar government presented a fact-of-the-matter report about the ‘tight’ land status and the difficulty in shifting the NH-30.

Till the logjam continues, wide-bodied aircraft like Airbus 300 and Airbus 321, which require a 9,000-feet long runaway, can’t land here at the Jayaprakash Narayan ‘International’ Airport.

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