The L-23 Super Blanik stands idle at Barwaddah airstrip on Tuesday. Picture by Gautam Dey
Spunky Dhanbad’s flight of fancy has been grounded.
The much-touted 15-day state glider camp at Barwaddah was suspended from Tuesday, within 48 hours of its inauguration, after a row of hurdles — from rough runway to high-tension wires in close proximity and a minor fire — came to the fore during a joint inspection.
On Monday afternoon, a technical team led my director of civil aviation Captain S.P. Sinha and deputy commissioner Prashant Kumar conducted a recce of the airstrip after pilots reported problems during take-off and landing.
Captain Sanjay Pandey, who led the 17-member civil aviation team manning the camp, elaborated on the findings. “There is grass on the runway, which is again uneven. Besides, there is a maze of high-tension wires near the airstrip. It is not safe to fly gliders in such conditions,” he said.
The veteran pilot added that Czech sailplane L-23 Super Blanik, which was brought from Ranchi for the joyride camp, conducted only 22 sorties in the past two days. “Of these, only six were for gliding enthusiasts, while the rest were test flights necessary to assess the weather and risk factors.”
Pandey admitted that there was a minor blaze at Barwaddah on Monday. “Shrubs bordering the airstrip caught fire, making flying unsafe too,” he said, adding that they were packing up and would resume the joyride only when “things are sorted out”.
Deputy commissioner Kumar confirmed the suspension of the camp and observed that some high-rises had come up near the airstrip in gross violation of building norms. “According to rules, a high-rise cannot be constructed within a 250-metre radius of an airstrip. I have asked the Mada to submit a report on the violation for appropriate action,” he said.
Kumar added that “recarpeting work” of the airstrip would also be carried out.
In the same vein, the deputy commissioner promised revamp of the runway. “The existing 3,000ft will be increased to 5,000ft. The current length of the runway is not adequate for take-off and landing of aircraft. We have sent a proposal for land acquisition to the civil aviation department. Construction of a hangar is also under progress,” he said.
Notably, the state allocated Rs 10 crore for renovating the airstrip last year, acting on a proposal sent by the district administration in September 2010.
In 1987, a modest carrier called Vayudoot was the first to begin operations in Dhanbad, flying in passengers from Patna, Calcutta and Ranchi. But, the service stopped just after a year. Since then, the airstrip has been lying idle. During elections, choppers ferrying politicians touch down here, while planes prefer the Bokaro tarmac from where leaders drive down to Dhanbad.
In 2008, a waiting hall for passengers was added to the airstrip. Former chief minister and JMM supremo Shibu Soren inaugurated the facility on October 5 the same year.
Sources said the basic problem of the airstrip was its length of only 3,700ft and width of 300ft. Also, the 4,000ft-long boundary wall is not high enough at places to keep trespassers at bay. Hangars, lights and fire facilities are also must to make the airstrip a viable option.
Is the state guilty of not doing an inspection before the camp?