The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Skirt shrine, stretch runway
- Airport overhaul bypasses mosque block in take-off path

Unable to move the mosque next to the tarmac at Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose International Airport, the authorities have worked out a way around it to extend the secondary runway.

'The proposal to increase the length of secondary runway by 440 metres has been okayed,' said Y. Agarwal, general manager (operations), Airports Authority of India (AAI), over phone from Delhi.

The length of the primary runway is 3,627 m, while the secondary runway is 2,399 m. Once the length is increased, bigger aircraft can land on the secondary runway as well.

After the state government recently abandoned efforts to relocate the mosque-cum-burial ground on the airport compound, the AAI had to work out an alternative for the overhaul of the international facility, which also includes the construction of a new terminal.

There is a 632 m stretch available between the edge of the runway and the mosque. 'Our survey shows that the runway can be increased by another 440 m,' a senior AAI official said.

'Estimates are being drawn up and work will start once the formal clearances for funds are obtained,' added airport director Rajendra Pal, on Friday.

The mosque's authorities have reiterated that they will not shift the shrine at any cost. 'It was built years before the airport came into existence,' said Munshi Siraj-ud-din Ahmed, secretary, Bankra Masjid Committee.

'It cannot be removed just like that. Who will take the responsibility' asked Ahmed. 'If we agree to shift the shrine, others will be removed too, in the name of development.'

Ahmed alleged that the airport authorities had stopped them from repairing the premises.

'We started repairs, but soon after, the permission was withdrawn. We have written to the authorities about the matter,' he added.

Among the upgrade plans at the airport, the installation of an instrumental landing system (ILS) has been proposed to allow planes to land in poor visibility.

If last Friday's lights-out ' caused by a technical snag and holding up evening flights for hours ' is ever repeated on the main runway, the secondary strip can be operated as an alternative.

On Friday, the secondary runway could not be used as poor visibility prevented aircraft from landing or taking off. 'Once the length is increased and the ILS is installed, we can manage these kinds of emergencies better,' an official explained.

Lengthening of the secondary runway will, however, not facilitate take-off.

'To allow larger aircraft to take off, the mosque has to be removed,' admitted senior airport officials.

Bigger aircraft carrying heavy loads cannot operate on the second strip at its current length, due to the limited landing distance available.

The primary runway has Category-I light facilities and is being upgraded to Category II, for which work is expected to be over by June.

In the absence of a similar system on the secondary runway, visibility of less than 3,000 m makes it unusable.

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