A look at its past, present and maybe, a bleak future.
The Jakkur Aerodrome is located in what has today, become a part of the ever expanding city of Bangalore. Back in the day, it actively functioned as the home of the ‘Government Flying Training School’, a 64 year-old academy that used to see a large flock of students who enrolled to get acquainted with the basics of flying and get their private pilot’s license. Over the years however, Jakkur wears the look of an abandoned airstrip with the tarmac bare and hangars empty, picking up dust. The reasons for the rather sudden decline of the aerodrome could be many, but it is hard to miss out on the most apparent and recent one – the elevated expressway that connects Bangalore city to the swanky new Bangalore International Airport Limited, or BIAL ( the airport has been renamed and is now known as Kempegowda International Airport Limited, named after the founder of Bangalore). The expressway has shortened the travel time to the airport to magical figures in the range of something like thirty minutes, so you would think it is among the best infrastructure developments taken up by the city in a very long time. Everyone is of that opinion, except people over at the Jakkur Aerodrome.
To better understand the basic functioning of airports and aerodromes, it is important to understand that aircraft rely on ‘markers’ in order to land efficiently and also to help guide their flight paths immediately after take off. These markers – the inner, middle and outer marker – are located along specific peripheries from the airstrip; the inner markers being closest to the airstrip and the outer markers being the farthest. That being said, the Airports Authority of India, or the AAI, has specific norms about construction of any kind near and around airstrips that states that structures of any nature around the airstrips or most importantly, in the flight path, are to be restricted to a specific height. When the issue is regarding construction right next to an airstrip, the AAI generally maintains that no structure temporary or permanent, can be erected there since it provides an obstruction to the functioning of the airstrip.
With rules that are this transparent and easy to interpret, it was only surprising when the elevated expressway was built right next to the Jakkur Aerodrome’s compound wall. After the expressway was opened, the Aerodrome was shut down and the aircrafts in the hangers remained grounded, awaiting a decision regarding the obstruction and potential threat that the expressway was posing to the aircraft.
After doing some research about this issue, I came across articles that spoke about how the expressway was a gross violation of the AAI rules, considered to be one of the most stringent and hard-to-bend rules that govern construction activity throughout the country. It seemed as if there was no action taken against the general contractors while the construction was underway and after everything was done, the authorities decided to take action.
I happened to ride along the same road recently, only, I didn’t travel along the expressway but decided to take the road at grade that was used immediately after the airport opened. I noticed the flyover portals and columns were painted to indicate their mammoth presence to pilots who would be using the airstrip. Even when the expressway was opened, the stretch spanning along the Aerodrome was in darkness and didn’t have any light poles. Looking at these quirky moves, I am all but unsure if these steps were just a means to an end for Jakkur or a gesture indicating that the old must always, make way for the new.
For now, most aircraft from the hangers have been shifted and once again, there is no apparent activity in the aerodrome. The Air Traffic Control tower, a shanty cabin erected on metal supports bears a look of isolation and the airstrip remains a shiny black scar in the scorching heat. Looking back at most infrastructure projects that have dotted the city, there seems to be a very obvious trend, one that is blatantly screaming out – change is inevitable.