DGCA detects flaws in runway maintenance work at Ahmedabad airport, AAI fails to act despite incriminating vigilance report

New Delhi: Even as the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is rattled by the inferior quality runway at the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport in Ahmedabad, the Airports Authority of India (AAI), which operates the facility, is turning a blind eye to the problem caused by the patchy re-carpeting of the tarmac and its poor maintenance.

The shoddy maintenance work at the airport in the home state of Prime Minister Narendra Modi jeopardises the safety of passengers with flights being operated under challenging circumstances.

However, according to sources, AAI is sitting on a vigilance probe on the re-carpeting of the runway at the Ahmedabad airport, which indicted several officers including engineers for misdeeds and did not take up the enquiry to punish the accused.

“After serious irregularities in re-carpeting was unearthed by the vigilance team, some officers were charge-sheeted but the top-level management responsible for implementation and monitoring somehow managed to get away by manipulating the system. In fact, a general manager-level officer directly responsible for the irregularities in re-carpeting of the runway was promoted. Not only substandard materials were used in re-carpeting but there are still open drains and bitumen waste lying at the runway strip posing serious danger to aircraft operations. The enquiry committee, which was formed to fix responsibility did nothing in this case despite involving a huge expenditure. The DGCA’s recent inspection has exposed what AAI officers were trying to cover up for the last one-and-half years,” the sources said.

A detailed questionnaire sent to the AAI and the Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Pradeep Singh Kharola remained unanswered.

It is learnt that the project in charge of Ahmedabad runway work was promoted as an executive director while the contractor’s alleged involvement was brushed under the carpet.

“In this particular case, after the vigilance report, the enquiry officer, a general manager of the Engineering Division did not perform his duties and hushed up the case. He is sitting on the file and delaying the process to fix responsibility. If the vigilance case is taken up for logical conclusion, the officer will be held accountable for not taking any action overlooking the bad quality work putting the life of passengers at risk and also tarnishing the reputation of AAI. The deficiencies in the runway at Ahmedabad airport could have been rectified much earlier if the officials did their job honestly on the basis of findings of AAI vigilance department,” sources said.

The DGCA granted all-weather operations license to Ahmedabad airport in 2007 which is renewed from time to time and is valid up to 22 March 2020. In the first week of July, the inspection by the DGCA team flagged six major loopholes at the airport directly linked to the irregularities.

The aviation regulator said analysis of six-month data reveals that the frequency of friction test is not maintained as documented in the aerodrome manual, which mandates that the runway friction test is to be carried out every month. The DGCA also observed that the friction test reports considered for analysis between December 2018 to June 2019 are showing a downward trend. In some spots, the friction values have gone down below maintenance planning level and at a few locations, it has slipped to below minimum level.

In 2017-18, the Ahmedabad airport handled more than 18 lakh passengers and runway friction is critical for aircraft braking. Less friction on a runway could delay aircraft braking response.

The DGCA requirement for aerodrome standards said, “Surface irregularities may adversely affect the take-off or landing of an airplane by causing excessive bouncing, pitching, vibration or other difficulties in the control of an airplane.”

The condition of runway as observed by DGCA during inspection is in clear violation of aircraft safety guidelines since DGCA mandates that friction tests of existing surface conditions should be taken periodically in order to avoid falling below the minimum friction level and when the friction of any portion of a runway is found to be below this value, then such information is promulgated in a NOTAM (notice to airmen about potential hazards on the flying route or a particular location) specifying which portion of the runway is below the minimum friction level and its location on the runway.

The DGCA observed groundwater seepage violating its guidelines which clearly states that the contaminated runway with water patches could be hazardous for aircraft operations.

Sources said if the present vigilance case is re-opened by the government, the nexus operating with impunity in connivance with top officials and contractors will be completely exposed.

“All the major runway and building works executed by AAI in the last five years including tender specifications, procedure and their execution etc. should be examined by chief technical examiners of the Central Vigilance Commission, and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India to ascertain the corruption and quality of work which is dangerous for the safety of passengers,” the sources said.

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