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Friday, 13 January, 2012, 15 : 00 PM [IST]

AAI looking to extend Juhu airport runway on stilts

With the new Coastal Regulation Zone rules permitting the construction of roads on stilts, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) has decided to pursue its two-year-old plan to extend the existing Juhu airport runway in Mumbai westwards into the Arabian Sea. The Juhu runway extension plan was proposed in 2010 after consultancy firm KPMG conducted a feasibility test to find a way to decongest Mumbai’s only airport.

Juhu’s sole runway lies in the east-west direction; going by the current plan, its length will be extended from the current 1,143 metres to 2,020 metres by building it on stilts over the Juhu-Tara Road and into the sea. The increased length would render the runway safe for turbo-prop aircraft operations, enabling ATR aircraft operated by carriers like Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines to land at the Juhu airport, according to a report by The Times of India.

However, one of the technical problems facing the project is that the current runway is at an elevation of four metres above the mean sea level. An extension of the runway into the sea would mean accounting for the high tide. Ratnakar Gaikwad, Chief Secretary, Government of Maharashtra has sought a techno-economic feasibility report for the project from the authorities and the AAI is expected to submit it within a fortnight.

A permission to reclaim parts of the Juhu seafront was denied by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) in 2010. But after the new CRZ norms were released by the MoEF last year, permitting roads on stilts in CRZ-I areas (within 100 metres of the shoreline), the AAI has proposed to extend the airstrip on stilts.

AAI officials, who met with Gaikwad and state officials yesterday, insisted that the airstrip extension be taken on a priority basis. With plans to divert about 70 small and light-bodied aircraft from the Mumbai airport, the project is expected to absorb 15 per cent of the main airport’s load.

The project, which involves a capital cost of Rs 2,000 crore, will have to cross major hurdles besides the runway alignment problem. A state official said an MoEF permission would have to be sought. Besides, the state and the BMC will have to modify certain public reservations on plots affected. The airstrip extension and permission for commercial operations will also entail development of infrastructure facilities and modernization of the aerodrome, which could require relocation of 3,500 illegal hutments. State officials fear that the plan will invite opposition from locals.
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