Mumbai airports unsafe; Aviation report

India witnessed over 25 near-miss incidents between April 2015 and March 2016 involving commercial aircraft.
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport

NEW DELHI: Do passengers taking a flight to Mumbai have reasons to worry? The senior officer heading aviation safety in the Aviation Authority of India (AAI) has declared India’s second busiest airport, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSIA), Mumbai, and its adjoining Juhu airport “unsafe for operations”.

The report by S Mangala, DGM (Aviation Safety) of Western Region, AAI, titled ‘Report on Aviation Safety’ dated October 18, states, “As the designated safety manager, I hereby recommend the temporary closure of at least runway 9/27 of CSIA, Mumbai. There is a complete breakdown in safety standards at CSIA and Juhu airports and it has rendered operations at both these airports to unsafe levels.”

The Mumbai international airport is operated by a private developer, GVK-run Mumbai International Airports Private Limited.

The AAI report points out: “The encroachment of airspace by the buildings around the airports is cancer spreading across Indian airports, but it has brought aviation safety to critical limits in Mumbai.”

Mangala’s  observations come ahead of a visit by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) — the international body that governs civil aviation norms worldwide — to India in March next year to assess concerns over the country’s poor air-safety record.

Citing safety oversights, the US Federal Aviation Administration downgraded India’s civil aviation sector in 2014. A year earlier, the ICAO audited India’s civil aviation sector and discovered severe safety lapses. Of the 196 countries in the world, 177 — including India — are members of the body. The report also alleges that collusion by senior bureaucrats and aviation officials has endangered air safety. 

“There is involvement of top officials of MIAPL, AAI, DGCA (civil aviation regulator) and MoCA (Ministry of Civil Aviation) in compromising aviation safety and therefore I recommend that the mitigation measures recommended in this report be undertaken under the supervision of ICAO,” the report said. It further added, “... the decision of keeping my office in the dark on safety issues has been taken at the highest levels. The functioning of aviation safety office of the western region has been disabled in violation of national and international regulations. 

The real condition of aviation safety could be far worse than what I have reported.” India witnessed over 25 near-miss incidents between April 2015 and March 2016 involving commercial aircraft, according to DGCA.

A DGCA official said the high rate of air incidents was reported from eight airports, which include Mumbai and Chennai, and some incidents may have gone unreported.

The report further added, “The unwillingness of the authorities to act in accordance with air regulations could be catastrophic in case of any eventuality because the number of ground casualties could be far more than that of
passengers and crew put together.”

CSIA, India’s second busiest airport, has one main runway and three other secondary runways. Slums occupy around one-third of the airport land.

Protected by powerful political interests, encroachers refuse to move out. 

Chennai-based aviation expert Mohan Ranganathan, a former member of the Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council (2010-13) constituted by the MoCA highlighted 112 encroachments on Runway 27 of CSIA. The Mumbai High Court ordered their demolition, but it has not been carried out yet.

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The New Indian Express