Monday, October 23, 2017

Why the Juhu Airport in Mumbai Is A Disaster Waiting to Happen

A small, almost obscure road leads off SV Road near Nanavati Hospital, Vile Parle (West) to an aerodrome in Mumbai. Founded in 1928, this airfield with two cross runways was Mumbai’s primary airport till 1948 when operations were shifted to Santacruz.

Since then, the airfield has seen a steady decline in importance and commercial value. The only two improvements in recent years have been the addition of an imposing entry barrier and handing over of perimeter security to the Maharashtra Security Force.
It is a safe sanctuary for birds and animals. Stray dogs laze around the tarmac, taking shelter under parked helicopters to escape the harsh sun. Cormorants and spot-billed ducks paddle around idyllic lakes adjacent to aircraft aprons. Flocks of egrets lift off from inside the airfield and soar around Juhu-Chowpatty beach.
Large pariah kites squat on the runways and regard helicopters churning the air with utter disdain. Often, helicopters and birds come into close proximity only to be saved by the pilots’ reflexes, avian instincts or just plain luck. Bird lovers (me included) secretly rejoice that many varieties of birds that would have been driven out of town by pollution and encroachments roost safely here.

Welcome to Juhu Aerodrome, Chhatrapati Shivaji International (CSI) Airport, Mumbai’s poor cousin. It is home to many non-scheduled helicopter operators, general aviation and Bombay Flying Club. More than a hundred helicopter flights operate daily from this airfield, maintaining the vital link between ONGC’s oil fields in Bombay High and the mainland.
Air charters and few general aviation aircraft make up the rest of traffic. At sunset, all operations close down and an eerie silence envelopes the dark, unlit aerodrome. Packs of dogs roam around on the runways. It is a safe haven for them, a dark and open green oasis set amidst Mumbai’s glitzy skyline.

Juhu airport operates literally and metaphorically in the shadow of CSI Airport. Height and routing restrictions within 25 miles of CSI airport require helicopters to fly low, in close proximity of high rises dotting western suburbs and South Mumbai.
22/10/17 Kaypius/The Quint

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