During a heated hearing on issues related to the Chandigarh International Airport, the Punjab and Haryana High Court Thursday rued that its “lack of technical expertise” on the matter had been taken advantage of, after Air Commodore S Srinivasan stated that indecision over installation of an upgraded landing system (CAT III-B) could again lead to closure of runway in the future. He further stated that the issue was now “back to square one”.
The court was informed that the airport will have to remain closed till afternoon on Sundays till September this year, and on second and fourth Sundays after that for routine maintenance work, despite the fact that CAT II-ILS (a landing system of which CAT III-B is a upgraded version) will be ready by April 1.
While the contractor working on the airport’s runway stated in court that they will able to handover the runway to Tata Power’s Strategic Engineering Division (SED) by April 25 for installation of lighting under the Modernisation of Airfield Infrastructure (MAFI) project, which will allow the airport to remain functional at a visibility of 350 metres from April 1, the focus Thursday shifted to the pending decision over installation of CAT III-B.
CAT III-B will allow the airport to remain functional at a visibility of 50 metres, and will also give it an infrastructural edge. However, the runaway will have to be closed for work to take place, once a decision is taken over it. “Logically, it should have been completed with the MAFI. However, there have been multiple bottlenecks. It does not seem realistic now. If the CAT III has to be installed, the previous lighting installed under the CAT II-ILS will have to be uprooted for installation of new equipment. We have come all the way round to stage 1,” said Srinivasan. However, he also told the court that the absence of it does not create any operational problems at the airport.
Srinivasan said that the “magic moment” for integration of the systems — which would have prevented possible closure and “uprooting” of lights which are in the process of being installed — has been missed and the CAT III-B system will now not be available in the coming winter or possibly the winter after that. However, he also informed the court that CAT II-ILS will make the airport operational even at a visibility of 350 metres.
Assistant Solicitor General of India Chetan Mittal informed the court that they were in talks with TATA SED for integration of both two lighting systems, but the company was demanding around Rs 61.7 crore while according to Airports Authority of India’s (AAI) estimates, it can be done in Rs 30 crore. Senior Advocate Puneet Bali, who represented the Mohali Industries Association in the case, submitted that the steps should have been taken long ago.
“This is very unfortunate. We are back to square one. Why are they so unimaginative? Suddenly, we are being now told about this,” Bali submitted.
Mittal responded that AAI had agreed in January 2018 to bear the costs for the upgradation but 0.6 acres of land was required to shift a patch of the perimeter fencing wall. He added that the issue remained pending with the Punjab government — “which did not inform…the court” — for months initially, but later informed it that the land falls under UT Chandigarh, which has now started acquisition proceedings.
The bench observed that there is a need to find a solution, adding it will not get anything if “we hang Union of India”. Bali argued that there is a need to fix responsibility and said it was the “change of stances” before the court that has prevented international flights from taking off from the airport.
“Someone is taking advantage of the lack of our technical knowledge. We are not experts. We are coordinating here but if someone deceives us, we do not have the technical experience. Somebody down the line has taken advantage, we are at pains to say this,” the bench observed, adding that nobody informed it that due to non-simultaneous work of lighting at the runway, there will be uprooting and closure.
In a total reversal of their previous stand on upgradation of the runway and construction of a parallel taxi track (PTT) at the airport, the Centre had last year informed the court that AAI has agreed to make the existing runway CAT-III compliant and pay for it.
The court was informed that at present the airport, is operational from 7 am to 5.45 pm hours from Monday to Saturday, and 1 pm to 5.45 pm on Sundays.