In August 2015, a Bangladesh-based United Airways aircraft flying from Dhaka to Muscat made an emergency landing at Raipur’s Swami Vivekananda airport after one of its engines failed with 173 passengers on board. More than a year later, the McDonnell Douglas DC 63 still occupies one of the six parking bays at Chhattisgarh’s only functioning airport — an anomaly at a facility with no international service.
Desperate for the aircraft to be flown back to Dhaka, officials of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) have written several letters to civil aviation authorities in Bangladesh as well as the private carrier asking them to expedite the process. And while they await some action, the aircraft stands unattended, leading to a space crunch at the airport.
At 7 pm on August 17 last year, the Raipur airport was told that a United Airways flight, flying over the city, needed to make an emergency landing. “We are a small airport and even at that time, we had asked if the flight could land in Nagpur or Kolkata. But it was communicated that one of the engines had failed, and that the pilot wanted to take no chances. Within five minutes, we cleared the runway and activated emergency procedures, and the flight landed safely. The passengers were accommodated by us, until chartered flights arrived to take them back to Dhaka,” a senior official said.
Twenty days after the emergency landing, a team from the Bangladesh Civil Aviation Authority landed in Raipur to investigate why the engine had failed. Several months and letters later, a technical team arrived in April 2016, with another engine that was duly fitted. “The DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) accorded approval, they fitted their engine successfully, and a ground test was carried out. But the flight could not take off because it still did not have a Certificate of Airworthiness, which is a mandatory requirement,” said Santosh Dhoke, airport director.
Dhoke said he has written at least 12 letters over the past year, to which the last response he received from United Airways — on August 30, 2016 — said that there were “regulatory implications “ in the renewal of CFA, which meant that they were unable to fly the aircraft out.
It said that while the “inconvenience is regretted”, they were hopeful of a resolution in two or three months.
“We have six parking bays at Raipur airport, and at peak hour, there are five flights that fly in or out during the same period. That leaves us with very little leeway for other aircraft, like state planes, those of companies that operate in Chhattisgarh, and most importantly, flights that carry out medical emergencies,” said Dhoke.
But before the flight does take off eventually, officials said, United Airways will have to pay “parking charges” upwards of around Rs 30 lakh and counting. “This is normal international procedure with very clear norms. The charge is fixed according to the weight and the wingspan of the aircraft. In this case, it works out to around between Rs 8,500 and Rs 9,000 a day. No clearance to take off will be given without this amount being paid,” Dhoke said.