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Helipads change Bangalore skyscape, but can’t take off

86 at last count, helipads atop buildings are hosting dinners till they receive the all-clear.

Meant for quick travel and emergencies, helipads await clearances Meant for quick travel and emergencies, helipads await clearances

The helipads look like mushrooms, perched atop the city’s towering office buildings and tallest residential high rises. There are half-a-dozen in downtown Bangalore alone. As the city shoots up, finally acquiring a semblance of a skyline, they are multiplying at a rapid speed. Eighty six helipads dot the Bangalore skyscape, either fully or close to ready.

These helipads, mandated at the summit of all buildings over 60 feet tall to comply with safety norms, have been caught up in byzantine bureaucracy, preventing their use for emergencies. Now many are being turned into romantic rendezvous settings for affluent spenders.

As many Indian cities grow vertical, newly-established building norms make helipads an essential emergency requirement, says K L Sudheer, Inspector General of Police, Karnataka State Fire & Emergency Services.

“The National Building Code of 2005 has put down stringent fire safety measure for tall buildings and has set very high specifications and standards for helipads,” Sudheer said.

They are to come in handy in calamitous circumstances — like in the case of a fire, as fire services do not have equipment that can reach such heights. Developers say that each helipad costs over a crore of rupees to build and commission. But nearly all of them have been lying in total disuse for years, caught up in paperwork.

Now some of them are being put to inspired use.

The JW Marriott in the Whitefield suburbs hosted a very intimate Valentine’s Day dinner for a couple at their helipad and priced it at 50,000 rupees. The height of the helipad and the views converted the evening into an adventure.

On the top of the 128-meter high, 30-floor Brigade World Trade Center, the city’s tallest skyscraper and south India’s tallest commercial building, the helipad readied in 2011 is yet to be commissioned. There are helipads at Brigade’s other developments such as Brigade Summit and Brigade Exotica too, and a further three to four in the pipeline.

Like the Whitefield Marriott, Brigade too will soon start renting out its helipad as a single-table private deck to couples. “It will be turned into an intimate dining area for very special occasions such as anniversary celebrations and wedding proposals,” said Nirupa Shankar, director of hospitality at Brigade Group. The panoramic views of Bangalore from the helipad are breathtaking enough to make the occasion memorable. The charge: one lakh rupees only.

“There is too much paperwork and too many clearances required to commission the helipads and put them to emergency use,” says Jitendra Virwani, the billionaire chairman of Bangalore’s leading construction firm Embassy Property Developments. Virwani himself prefers to use the Jakkur Flying Club helipad when he travels by helicopter.

“We will soon have hundreds of them, it is a national waste,” says Virwani.

Two helipads will come up at Virwani’s Embassy Lake Terraces development in north Bangalore. One will come up in a residential high-rise within the Manyata Tech Park and yet another at the Vrindavan Tech Park in east Bangalore.

Sudheer, whose fire force is a likely emergency user of the helipads, agrees that there are multiple permissions required from several authorities such as civil aviation, airport and Bangalore’s city corporation. “A dozen agencies have to coordinate before helipads can be actually used for take-offs and landings,” he said.

But helipads are an essential in rapidly-expanding cities like Bangalore, Pune and Gurgaon. “They can be used to fight fires, to make emergency evacuations in case of a health emergency or even fly VVIPs when the roads are traffic-clogged,” he said. So far, not a single helipad has been used to evacuate anybody or any other emergency use.

In central Bangalore, the helipad at the ITC Gardenia is perhaps the only one that has been used at all. In the IPL heydays, high fliers of the likes of Lalit Modi and the Ambanis landed and took off from the helipad. Vijay Mallya also used the hotel’s helipad multiple times while the one at his own UB City, practically next door, stands unused for the same bureaucratic reasons.

ITC Gardenia packages its heliport facilities as an exclusive, luxury perk that comes as an add-on to its presidential suite. “It is a great facility to boast of, given that VVIPs can use it to travel from the airport to the centre of the city in 12 minutes flat,” one ITC employee said.

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