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Construction in India Violates Building Aviation Regulations

A dispute related to building aviation regulations in India highlights the importance of communication between aviation authorities, building developers and owners.

Nagpur International Airport serves the city of Nagpur which is about 500 kilometres west of New Delhi. Formally called the Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar International Airport, this airport covers an area of about 550 hectares, handles about 4,000 passengers a day and also serves as an Indian Air Force Base. It is primarily served by passengers travelling to and from Mumbai, the state capital.

The Maharashtra Airport Development Company Limited (MADC) was established in 2002 to lead the development and implementation of a new cargo hub at the airport. The project is called the ‘Multi-modal International Cargo Hub and Airport at Nagpur’ (MIHAN) and is a significantly large economic development. The plan is to create a large cargo hub to be handled by the international airport as well as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) containing a residential area. MADC entered into a joint venture with a special purpose entity called MIHAN India Ltd (MIL) to drive this project.

Dispute arises due to violation of building aviation regulations

The project, however, has attracted controversy due to the construction of high-rise buildings by nearby private developers, breaching building aviation regulations. We explained how aviation regulations can impact building heights in the Australian context in a previous blog.

The Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC), the municipal body that administers the city of Nagpur, approved the construction of these buildings despite the fact that they directly interfere with the landing of aircraft. Vijay Mulekar, a senior airport director, said in a press conference that the high-rises were built in violation their permits and his requests for razing of the buildings to the NMC were turned down. He apparently also wrote to the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and received no response.

building aviation regulations

Photo by Mark Harkin. Used under a Creative Commons licence.

MIL very recently decided to conduct a survey of these buildings, planning to issue building owners with an instruction to demolish the construction. MIL had previously done such surveys and found that around 15 of the buildings constructed were lawful. However, these extra buildings appear not to be. Pilots have frequently raised the issue that the high buildings have launched their ground proximity warning (GPW) to activate. MIL says they will not permit the landing of aircraft on the runway affected.

MIL had previously requested the NMC to raze these constructions but the NMC claim that that is not their role. One local paper reported that “every agency is passing the buck to others for this mess”. NMC argue that they are not the authority to certify Above Mean Sea Level (AMSL) buildings although, according to this paper, NMC still have the duty to visit, inspect and supervise the construction. The Municipal Commissioner claimed that they were permitted by MIL to construct these buildings, but MIL retorted by saying that the developer misled them by showing wrong or false AMSL certificates.

It is unfortunate that India’s Demolition Rules 1994 of the DGCA do not delegate responsibility to a specific agency to raze these buildings. However Mr Mulekar said that local bodies, as a matter of practicality, have that role.

The involvement of the Airport Authority of India (AAI) has also not helped much. The AAI issued ‘No Objection Certificates’ to four of these buildings, and apparently NMC never saw these certificates before giving developers approval to build. The same local paper reported that the “million dollar question is as to how these illegal constructions were allowed to take place so close to airport funnel area in the first place and why timely intervention was not ordered by either NMC and MIL”.

The Airport has announced that the length of the runway will be reduced. It will not be able to handle more flights in the future. The Hitavada commented that this dispute “will practically shatter dreams of making Nagpur airport a truly international destination of aircraft”.

Unlawful constructions a persistent problem

The unlawful construction of buildings appears to be a persistent problem in Nagpur region. In May 2018, 1,328 buildings in the city’s outskirts were declared ‘illegal’ by Nagpur’s Metropolitan Region Development Authority. In November 2017, the Authority issued 833 builders a warning to stop the construction of buildings violating development control rules. In 2015, Indian telco Indus Towers constructed an illegal mobile tower that six months prior was issued with a warning notice by the Nagpur Improvement Trust. In April 2018, NMC even gave developers six months to ‘regularise’ unauthorised constructions.

The whole situation in India demonstrates how important it is to have communication between the aviation regulator, building developers, local councils and anybody else in the process. We in Australia are generally very fortunate to have a system where communication works reasonably well. It is important not to take this for granted.