The much-anticipated works on the modernization of the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) defence airfield at Lohegaon will begin from November, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne said on Saturday.
The works form a part of the IAF’s ambitious Rs 1,220 crore ‘Modernisation of Airfield Infrastructure – Phase I’ (MAFI-I) project for making 30 airfields capable of handling modern transport and fighter aircraft.
The IAF is in the process of acquiring 126 modern combat aircraft like the French Rafale jet and has recently inducted six C-130J Hercules transport aircraft, which involve use of modern equipment.
However, the long-pending runway extension project remains delayed and is unlikely to commence in the near future. “There are legal issues which are still needed to be sorted out before we can take up the runway extension work,” Browne said.
The runway at Lohegaon airbase is proposed to be extended from the existing 8,300 ft to 10,200 ft. This would also facilitate landing of wide-bodied aircraft, which have bigger passenger capacity than those currently operating from the Pune airport, which is part of the Lohegaon airbase. The runway and the air traffic control (ATC) is handled by the IAF while the civilian flight operations and the civil enclave are managed by the Airports Authority of India (AAI).
Barring the runway, MAFI-I augurs well for civilian flight operations as the project will see the Lohegaon airfield getting a new state-of-the-art instrument landing system (ILS), distance measure equipment, tactical air navigation system, automated air traffic management system, which is to be provided by US defence major Raytheon, and new runway lights, among others. The entire phase-I contract has been bagged by the Tata Power Strategic Electronics Division.
The ILS, a key navigational aid, enables smooth landing of aircraft in poor visibility conditions caused by inclement weather. For long, the AAI as well as the airlines operating from Pune have been demanding installation of ILS to prevent instances like diversion or cancellation of flights due to poor weather conditions.
Browne, who has headed the Lohegaon airbase, said, “All MAFI-I works will be carried out during night hours in view of the civilian flight operations, which occur during daytime. We have set up an independent training establishment at the 7 Tetra School near the airbase for training our personnel in the handling of MAFI equipment,” he said.
On the growing concern about civilian construction activity within the periphery of the notified area of the airbase, Browne said there should not be any such construction activity. “There are gazette notifications, issued for all airbases across the country, specifying the no-construction zones that vary from 30 m to 100 m, 300 m and 900 m radius area from the airbase, depending upon the requirement. The problem occurs when these notifications, which are for two- to three- year period, lapse and are not renewed immediately. Builders exploit the time gap taken for renewal of the notification and start with constructions, which then get into legal tangles,” he said.
On the Indo-French Rafale deal, Browne said that the bilateral negotiation process is now half-way through and is expected to pick up later this month. “I have flown the aircraft and we all are satisfied and happy with the aircraft. We hope the deal will be completed by the end of the financial year.”