Mumbai: With the initiative to develop Juhu airport, as a secondary airport gaining momentum, and plans to shift all of the small aircraft operations from Mumbai airport to Juhu on the anvil, it has now been decided that the existing runway will be extended westwards into the Arabian Sea - on stilts.
The aviation ministry's decision aims to reduce the burden from the only international airport in the city. Civil aviation minister Ajit Singh said, "The increasing flight congestion at Mumbai airport is a concern for us, and we have decided to develop the Juhu airport so that it can take some load off the international airport. We want to shift the small aircraft operations to Juhu. A task force has been structured under the chairmanship of the Maharashtra CM, which will pursue the matter further. One joint secretary-level officer from the civil aviation ministry is also a member of this task force, and is coordinating with the state for necessary clearances."
When the minister was asked about the encroachments and was also informed that the runway of this airport is too small to cater to small aircraft like ATRs, he said, "The task force is studying important aspects including encroachments. The suggestion given by the consultancy firm to extend the Juhu airport runway into Arabian Sea also looks feasible. The existing runway will be extended by constructing stilts into the Arabian Sea." Singh also maintained that once necessary clearances are obtained, construction work would be on a fast track.
During a visit to the city last month, Singh along with the CM had conducted an aerial survey of Juhu airport, and later during a press briefing had announced that the airport would be developed. M Yadagiri, director, Juhu airport, also confirmed that the idea to extend the runway into Arabian Sea was once discussed with the cabinet secretary of Maharashtra. "It was mulled during a meeting with the state cabinet secretary to extend the runway into the Arabian Sea. I would not be able to comment whether it has finally been adopted or not, as it is a matter where the decision will be taken by the top officials."
Sources from Airport Authority of India (AAI), confirmed that movement of top officials from Delhi to Juhu has increased in the past few months. A team from the AAI planning department was on a three-day visit to Juhu to chalk out a strategy to clear the encroachments to pave the way for the new runway.
"Yes, the team was in Mumbai to study various aspects associated with Juhu airport, and encroachment could be one of the aspect," said Yadagiri.
Juhu's runway 08/26 lies in the east-west direction, and is currently 1,143m long, and will be extended by 877 metres to 2,020 metres by building it on stilts over the Juhu-Tara Road and into the Arabian Sea. Presently, the runway caters to a large number of chopper operations and a few number of fixed-wing small aircraft operate from here. According to the aviation ministry sources, around 100 flight operations (small aircraft), including ATRs, would be shifted to this runway, when it becomes operational.
40 Acres of Juhu airport, which has an approximate area of 400 acres, is encroached by slums. The aviation authorities along with the state authorities are chalking out a strategy to relocate over 3,000 hutments from the encroached area, so that the development process can start.
The Juhu runway extension plan was proposed to start in 2010, but the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) did not give its NOC then. However, in 2011, with Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) rules permitting roads on stilts in CRZ-I areas (within 100 metres of the shoreline), the project looks all set to take off.
2010: The year Juhu runway extension plan was proposed
2020 metres: The proposed length of the runway
100: Number of flight operations (small aircraft), would be shifted to Juhu airport once operational