May shut down Patna airport, warns ministry

In the aftermath of the Mangalore air crash, a safety audit conducted by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has identified 11 airports as critical. The Patna airport has turned out to be the most critical aerodrome in the country. Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel is learnt to have said that the Patna airport might be shut down if the state government failed to improve its infrastructure.

The Civil Aviation Ministry has asked the state government to either relocate the critical 6,000-feet airstrip, which is fit to operate only small aircraft, or suggest ways to improve and expand the airstrip, which at the moment is a nightmare for pilots with the presence of tall trees on one side and a railway line on the other.

Responding to the calling attention motion tabled in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday regarding 'serious safety problems faced by the airline industry in the country in the context of Mangalore aircraft crash', Patel said 11 airports have been identified as critical. These are located at Leh, Kullu, Shimla, Port Blair, Agartala, Lengpui, Kozhikode, Mangalore, Latur, Jammu and Patna. Most of these airports are situated in difficult terrain where extending the runway is next to impossible.

Patel chaired a high-level meeting of top aviation officials on Monday, which was also attended by Director General of Civil Aviation S N A Zaidi. In the meeting, Patel was informed by Zaidi that the Patna aerodrome was worse than the Jammu one. Patel is learnt to have said that if infrastructure at the Patna airport was not improved at the earliest, the ministry would have no option but to shut it down in wake of safety concerns.

The airstrip at the Patna Airport is constrained by a botanical garden with tall trees on one approach side and a railway line on the other side of the runway. Authorities fear a Mangalore-like situation in Patna could mean the plane breaching the boundary wall and ramming a train on the railway track.

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