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Close encounters of winged kind
- Mushrooming markets along airport boundary wall fan bird-hit fears among pilots

For pilots at the city airport, it’s now one eye on the runway and another on the markets off the airport boundary walls. For that’s where the danger in the skies lurks.

The birds over Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport are scaring the daylights out of pilots. And a recent survey has identified these markets as the breeding and feeding ground of the problem, say Airports Authority of India (AAI) officials.

Calcutta’s airport has at least 10 open markets, selling meat, poultry and fish, within a two-km radius; international air-safety norms do not allow a single even within 10 km. Birds, admit AAI officials, plague many airports, but nowhere is an international airport forced to co-exist with so many markets selling what the big scavenging bird loves best.

“We have specifically asked the local administration to close down the markets operating within two km of the airport,” airport director J. Kongari said. “But, instead of sealing the existing ones, we have found more cropping up around the airport.”

So, six months of 2002 (May-October) reported six bird-hits — IC 772 suffered a damaged engine while landing, on May 18; 9W-901 had its windshield damaged on May 20; an A-320 returned to the ground a few minutes after takeoff on June 9; IC 676 pilot reported a ‘hit’ during takeoff on June 11; IC 401 suffered engine damage while landing on July 26; CD 7286 suffered a cracked wing-flap while landing on October 19. The number of close encounters could touch the three-figure mark. “Most of them (bird hits and close shaves) are not reported,” said an AAI official.

Officials are sore with the role of the local politician. Instead of helping the administration close down the existing markets, the politicians are more interested in adding to the number, they complain.

A case in point is the Katakhal Haat at Ganganagar, less than a kilometre north of the airport boundary. Even a few months back, it was a small market. Now, it acts as the nodal point for distribution and delivery of the fish that comes to many Calcutta markets, say stall-owners. This attracts the kites and crows, while the refuse dumped along the canal attracts bigger scavengers, like vultures.

Citu, labour wing of the CPM, controls the market and members of the Katakhal Haat unit are more bothered about the the local economy. This market records transactions of Rs 10 lakh every month, they declare.

Other markets, too, abound on every densely-populated side of the airport. “We launch drives against illegal slaughterhouses and markets, but they soon come back,” said district magistrate H.K. Dwivedi, adding that the crackdown would be intensified.

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