The crash-landing of HAL Rotary Wing Academy’s Schweizer-300C helicopter atop a residential building near BEML Kalyana Mantapa in GM Palya on Thursday afternoon is the first frightening experience in Bangalore due to allowing training flights so close to residential areas. Although no explosion occurred when the helicopter’s rotors hit a concrete water tank on the terrace, the incident is an eye-opener for the civil and military aviation community about possible catastrophic effects of conducting training flights so close to residential areas.
DNA found that at least nine major densely populated localities of Koramangala, Wilson Gardens, Basavanagudi, Banashankari, Visveswarapuram, Bytarayanapura, Shankarapuram, Vijayanagar and Kempegowdanagar are located right under the flight path of aircraft taking off or landing at the HAL airport. Although commercial flight operations shifted to Bengaluru International Airport in Devanahalli in May 2008, HAL Airport continues to be home for military test flights conducted by the National Flight Test Centre (NFTC) and the Aircraft Systems and Training Establishment (ASTE).
And this is where the problem lies. NFTC conducts regular test flights on the Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas, from this airstrip, and ASTE conducts test flights on upgraded military aircraft like Jaguars, Mirage and MiGs — all of which fly over these densely populated residential areas.
The problem exists not only near HAL Airport, but even near Air Force Station Yelahanka (AFSY). In the training flight radius lie several schools and residential layouts such as Yelahanka New Town.
Since 1990, there have been eight air disasters involving aircraft and helicopters taking off from or landing at HAL airport or its vicinity. But it is a miracle that an aircraft has not landed on apartments, houses or office building in the airport’s vicinity – until Thursday. “There is always a degree of uncertainty when test flights are flown,” said an aviation expert. A former director of the Light Combat Aircraft programme said, “What can be done if areas surrounding the airfield were allowed to have residential areas?” According to Pete Field, former director, US Naval Test Pilot School: “It is important for authorities to zone approach and landing corridors of established airports so that land-use underneath the (flight) corridors disallows construction of residential buildings. Also, the local community should voice objections to the Bangalore authorities to see if there are flight approach corridors that offer less risk to the citizenry.”