Wednesday, December 09, 2020

Juhu airport turns chopper graveyard

The northern end of the Juhu airport could easily be mistaken for a scrapyard. Twenty-one ramshackle Augusta Westland helicopters have been lying abandoned at its Pawan Hans complex for over 20 years.

The helicopters have fallen into such a state of disrepair that they have turned into breeding grounds for mosquitoes. An employee of the Airports Authority of India, who lives nearby, said when dusk falls and some people go for a jog along the northern end wall, the mosquito menace becomes all the more visible. “Some of our staffers say there are snakes in there as well. These clunkers must be cleared,” he said.

The BMC has alerted the Pawan Hans, the PSU helicopter service company that has been operating out of the Juhu airport for years, several times but nothing has been done as yet.

The government bought these helicopters in 1985 at £65 million against experts’ advice. Debashish Chakraverty, an aviation enthusiast, said when they were procured, they were touted as state-of-the-art choppers. But following two crashes in August 1988 and February 1999 which led to the death of 10 passengers, the fleet was grounded. A Pawan Hans employee said pilots were unwilling to operate them.

Pawan Hans officials acknowledged that the helicopters have been occupying space that could be used for other purposes. Sanjay Kumar, the general manager, said they were supposed to be disposed of, but the plan has been held up owing to a number of issues. While Kumar was tightlipped on what these issues were, sources largely blamed red tape.

09/12/20 Yogesh Naik/Mumbai Mirror

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