Wednesday, August 23, 2023

How an upcoming airport in MP has left 70 trainee pilots in the lurch

On February 15, Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan and Union civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia had laid the foundation stone for a commercial airport at Rewa, the Vindhya region’s largest city in the state’s northeast. The project was part of a larger package that the BJP governments in MP and at the Centre have been pursing for the politically significant region. The target was to have the inaugural flight land at the Rewa airport by September ahead of assembly elections.

But given the mishandling of the project by government agencies, these plans may get delayed. Crucially, nearly 70 trainee pilots of the Falcon Aviation Academy (FAA) find their future jeopardised as flight training has abruptly stopped since February. Many of these students have serviced loans to pay their fee and the interest on their loans is mounting. There are also alleged instances of the local administration adopting coercive measures against FAA.

FAA was allotted the Rewa airstrip by the MP government in 2019 for two 15-year leases. It set up a training academy, brought in 12 trainer aircraft at the site and commenced training. On February 9 this year, local administration officials arrived at the airstrip and began pitching tents for the foundation stone ceremony. On February 12, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) sent an email to FAA that it would begin digging work on the runway.

FAA protested through an email, saying it was the occupant of the airstrip based on the lease and that sufficient notice had not been given. On February 24, FAA moved the high court and secured a stay. The stay was vacated on April 27 and work at the airstrip resumed. AAI, meanwhile, allotted an airstrip in the adjoining Satna district to FAA for operations. A large part of that airstrip was, however, under illegal encroachment. FAA refused the allotment on these grounds.

“The state government transferred the Rewa airstrip to AAI without consulting or informing FAA. The lease was granted to FAA and there had been no violation by the company. The authorities just landed up and started their work without informing us in advance,” said Harshvardhan Pratap Singh, managing director, FAA.

While work is on at the Rewa airstrip site, it cannot progress beyond a point. This is because 11 aircraft of FAA and its fuel dump are still located there. “I cannot move the fuel dump or the aircraft anywhere until I have permission from the Petroleum & Explosive Safety Organisation (PESO) and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA),” reasoned Singh.

The fuel dump is spread over 20,000 sq feet and has a capacity of 48,000 litres. Aviation gasoline is a Category A fuel and requires a licence for storage.

23/08/2023 Rahul Noronha/India Today

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