ISLAMABAD: At a time when the New International Islamabad Airport has seen yet another deadline pass, the Civil Aviation Authority on Wednesday got into another quagmire over the construction of a third runway at the airport.
The issue was taken up in the Senate Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat on Wednesday where the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) officials were apparently not quite prepared to face a volley of questions from senators.
Officials of the committee were told that the need for a new runway at the still under-construction New Islamabad Airport (NIIA) had been considered given future expansion plans and the expected air traffic in the capital.
Early last month, the same committee had been told that the opening date of the airport had been pushed back months to December from its much-advertised date of August 14.
The third delay in inaugurating the airport since 2007 has seen its cost more than double from the initial Rs32 billion to Rs82 billion with officials confirming that 97 per cent work on the facility has been completed.
Interestingly, officials said that two runways built at the airport cannot support simultaneous takeoff and landing of two aircraft since their wings would collide with each other.
Earlier this year, the public accounts committee was stunned to learn about the technical fault and was further shocked when it was informed that the American consultant hired for the project had fled the country without finalising the project.
The panel’s chairperson Senator Talha Mehmood on Wednesday asked why inauguration of the airport had to be delayed for a third runway.
Senator Yousaf Badini asked CAA Director-General Asim Suleiman as to why a decision on the third runway was not taken in the initial plans of the project.
To this Suleiman replied when the plans were first being drawn, that had financial constraints. He added that the runway was added to the plans on the directives of the prime minister and it was meant to tackle the increased air traffic in future.
When Senator Badini again asked why land for the runway had not been purchased and why the master plan of the airport was not final, the DG said he could not answer the question.
The panel’s chairperson then asked for comments from residents of the nearby Meelo village – which could be demolished to make way for the third runway with the other end of the runway owned by the Top City Housing Society.
“They came to share their concerns as the influential man [owner of Top City] is a professional criminal can do anything to put the inhabitants of the village in trouble,” he said pointedly.
Mehmood told CAA Secretary Irfan Elahi to ensure that there is minimum damage to poor residents who have built their homes using their hard-earned money. Moreover, he directed that land acquired for the runway should be cordoned off using barbed wires or walls demarcating the land. Moreover, this should be advertised.
Elahi said that they had formed a committee comprising the Rawalpindi Development Authority and the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and the ministry’s joint secretary and that no construction would be allowed in the area without seeking a no-objection certificate from the committee.
The secretary further told the committee that they had already completed a survey of the area where the runway would be built and that a French consultant had completed the work. Details about the exact status of the land would be provided at the next meeting of the committee while a copy of the consultant’s report supplied to the committee once it is complete.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 28th, 2017.