June 7, 2013

Lohegaon airbase upgrade likely by August: Air Marshal Bhushan Gokhale

The Indian Air Force (IAF) authorities here have given strong indications to the Mahratta Chamber of Commerce Industries and Agriculture (MCCIA) about the likelihood of the much-anticipated modernization of air field infrastructure (MAFI) project taking off by August.
"A team of the private contractor, hired for MAFI project, is expected to visit Lohegaon airbase in the next 10 days for an initial survey. Another team will visit in the subsequent period. The air officer commanding (AOC) of the airbase has told us that the project work will begin by end of July or August," Air Marshal Bhushan Gokhale (Retd), who heads the MCCIA's civil aviation committee, told reporters on Wednesday.
The IAF has planned an ambitious Rs 1,220 crore makeover for 30 air fields across the country in phase-I of the MAFI project. The idea is to make these air fields capable of handling modern transport and fighter aircraft. For instance, 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.
Recently, the IAF completed a MAFI pilot project that involved modernisation of the Bhatinda air field in Punjab and now plans to start work at four more air fields including the Lohegaon airbase.
The project will see the Lohegaon air field 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 other things. The ILS, a key navigational aid, enables smooth landing of aircraft in poor visibility conditions caused by inclement weather. The entire phase-I contract has been bagged by Tata Power Strategic Electronics Division.
During his visit to the Armed Forces Medical College here in August last year, the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne, had declared that the MAFI project works at Lohegaon will commence from November 2012. However, the project failed to take off as the authorities awaited the feedback from the pilot project at Bhatinda. "There were technical issues that needed to be sorted out before the focus could shift to the other air fields," said Gokhale.
According to MCCIA president S K Jain, the apprehension about MAFI works causing major disruption in the civilian flight operations from the Lohegaon civil enclave for six months, has now been removed by the IAF authorities. "We have been told by the AOC that the constraints on account of the runway works under MAFI, won't last for more than two to two-and-a-half months," said Jain. "The initial focus will be on the peripheral works that will take nearly four months and the remaining two months of more will be for the runway works when the constraints would come into effect," he said.
As of now, the Lohegaon civil enclave handles 90 aircraft movement every day i.e. 45 take offs and 45 landings. "The IAF authorities have assured us that they will make every attempt to see that all the 90 aircraft movement will be maintained during the MAFI works," said Jain. The works are to be implemented during night time between 10 pm and 8 am.
Jain said, "The IAF authorities have assured us of accommodating flights during the 8 am to 10.30 am slot that is normally reserved for the air force's daily flying exercises and between the 7.30 pm and 10.30 pm slot. Already, the latter slot has been reduced to two hours, from 8.30 pm to 10.30 pm."

Times of India

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