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Chennai airport flooded. IAF helicopter view from west.
Chennai airport flooded. IAF helicopter view from west.

Chennai airport flooding: Expert warned authorities 7 years earlier

Air safety expert and member of the government appointed safety committee, Captain Ranganathan had warned the authorities about the flooding of Chennai airport over seven years ago.

In an article titled “Viable project or white elephant?” published in the Hindu Business Line print edition dated August 13, 2008, the airline captain with over 35 years of flying experience lambasted the government’s over-ambitious plan to extend the airport’s secondary runway over the Adyar river.

If the secondary runway’s level is not raised sufficiently, it is going to be flooded in any heavy rain condition. It will also mean that aircraft will not be able to reach or use the parallel runway. People have forgotten what happened to Chennai airport during the deluge in 2005…..

…..The Chembarambakkam lake overflow is through the Adyar river. If the flow area is restricted by the secondary runway or blocked to a large extent, the flooding on the west, south and south-east areas are going to be extensive.”

December 1, 2015, a little over seven years after he penned those prophetic words, Capt. Ranganathan’s dire warning came true. Thanks to heavy rains, Chembarambakkam lake overflowed and the restricted Adyar river could not handle it. As the cover photo taken from Indian Air Force helicopters show, it is the area around the secondary runway (along with the erstwhile Kingfisher ATR72s are parked, that is most flooded. The area near the main runway (shown by the Singapore Airlines Boeing 747F freighter parked is relative better off.

Map of Chennai airport with cover photo showing flooding view overlay
Map of Chennai airport with cover photo showing flooding view overlay

To rub salt in to the wounds of the taxpayers of India, the secondary runway bridge, which was built at a cost exceeding Rs 450 crore, had already started breaking down less than two years after it was constructed. The full technical explanation along with photographs of cracks and leaks can be found in this letter written to the ministry by the Captain.

The parties in power two years ago, at both the centre and the state, should bear bulk of the blame for this unfortunate situation today. Share your thoughts via a comment, and please share this article via social media to your friends.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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  • Indraneel Upponi

    No one was held accountable 10 years ago when Mumbai airport was closed down due to a similar cloud burst. Mumbai airport also has the Mithi river flowing beneath the runway and I have seen nothing done to desilt or clean the river after the deluge in 2005. I won’t be surprised if another 100 cms of rain in Mumbai in a day will close down the Mumbai airport too. Everybody will blame the nature’s fury and rub off the responsibilities from their shoulders.

    • Guest

      And the worst part about this is that, in the grand scheme of things, MAA is not a huge airport outside of India, so it’s not going to do much to the global aviation system But BOM is one of the world’s 50 busiest airports and is also extremely slot controlled, like LHR, and a shut down at BOM would send shockwaves around the world. You’d think MIAL and the governments would have done something by now.

      • Chennai is important from a cargo view point. Lots of automotive and electronics in the area depend on imports both air and sea.

  • Jamset

    Wow. Where did you get the map from?