The heart of Aero India 2009

The Aero India 2009 continues to draw large crowds, and for today and tomorrow, a huge crush of footfalls is expected.

Aerial displays in the morning and afternoon sessions are as spectacular and breathtaking as in any major air show held worldwide. While the public focusses on the magnificent flying machines and their daredevil pilots, they remain blissfully unaware of the singular edifice that facilitates and coordinates all the flying activity – the Air Traffic Control (ATC) – the heart of the air show, at Air Force Station (AFS) Yelahanka (VOYK).

Activity at the ATC begin before dawn and continue well beyond dusk. As the premiere training station for all Indian Air Force (IAF) transport wing, AFS Yelahanka, is one of the busiest military airfields in the country. Not only does it handle over 60,000 movements annually, it also has to contend with two major airfields – Bengaluru International Airport (BIA), just 4 nm to the north, and the HAL airport 10nm south. A task well handled by Chief Operations Officer (COO), Wing Commander N.V.M. Unnithan and his team.

Assisting him and bristling with activity, a 24×7 manned ‘Base Operations Room’ controls all aspects of the flying and coordinating with various agencies including ‘flying display director’, routine movements, VIP protocol, ground handling agencies, BIA, and HAL remains fully operational at the ATC tower.

While an anxious F-16 pilot, USAF Lieutenant Mike Benson, coordinating the flight schedule of the C-130 Hercules, was happy after the arrangements were explained by the COO, Captain Uphoff and Lieutenant Michael Schumacher (just a coincidence) of the German Air Force’s Fighter Wing-73, technical team members of the Eurofighter Typhoon dropped by to thank the officials at the ATC, a gesture symbolic of the universal spirit exemplified at the air show.

Preparations began six months in advance. Coordination meetings were crucial as Aero India 2009 was the first air show since the opening of new airport (BIA) last year. With a lateral separation between the airfields of just 4.3 nautical miles it was imperative to halt all civilian flights at BIA during the air displays. Most visiting aircraft of the IAF had to be housed at HAL due to the space constraints at Yelahanka. There is full cooperation between all the three airports and the flight displays are going perfect as expected.

The proximity of the flight paths at Yelahanka and BIA is demonstrated by this photograph of the F16IN SuperViper by my photography guru and guide, Praveen Sundaram a.k.a. Photoyogi. Do take the time to check his photo-stream.

Significant improvements in airfield infrastructure, resurfacing of the taxi-track, airfield links, refitting of the runway lighting, drainage of the 8,500 feet long runway were completed in just four months, ahead of the show, as per senior ATC officer, Wing Commander Sunil Ninan.

Seated on the console panels in a glass-encased environment, the cool demeanour of the five ATC officers manning the consoles betray little of the highly stressful role the controllers undergo. The banner displayed at the entrance says it all – ‘You are about to witness the most stressful profession in the world’.

While many in Indian commercial aviation complain about the accents of expatriate pilots, at Aero India there are many pilots from different countries, speaking in different accents, and the ATC controllers are equally adept at picking up the nuances, ensuring unambiguous and crystal clear communication between the pilots and ATC.

Flight safety remains paramount; all flight paths including the aerial displays, and restrictions are designed with risk mitigation in mind. AFS Yelahanka has the township of Yelahanka to the south, and is bounded to the north and east by BIA and its resultant development.

In an effort to restrict the bird activity especially during the flying displays that are flown at low-levels, adequate aerial surveys were done in the period leading to the air show. Ten ‘bird scare’ teams mounted on specially procured silent electric bikes prowl the entire airfield with double-barrel guns in the airfield area. In addition, ‘whistlers’, a pyro-technique device emitting high frequency, high-pitch sound that irritate the birds are being effectively used.

Closure of the fish, poultry, and meat markets in the near vicinity on specified days and covering water bodies (lakes and ponds) with nets are some of the initiatives undertaken by the IAF personnel at the base.

Despite these steps, birds are present in plenty, and BBMP officials have to get serious about sanitation and open-air meat markets in the Yelahanka, Devanahalli and Ejipura area

The meteorological forecasts during the air show got a boost with the installation of a ‘Numerical Weather Prediction Module’ enabling 24-hours observation watch, and 18-hours forecast watch, informed Wing Commander VK Choudhary, senior Met Officer at the base.

We have to applaud the efforts of all the people involved. From the policeman at Hebbal flyover, ensuring traffic gets to AFS Yelahanka quickly, to the IAF personnel at the base, the exhibitors, the display teams, pilots, and support crews, the government, and the organisers. It is a herculean effort executed with seamless precision and complete cooperation. Last, and certainly not the least, I hats off to the tireless efforts of the entire team at the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), led by Greeta Varughese and Sourav Narayan Biswas. They have all been working 20+ hour days for the last two weeks, to ensure the show is an unbridled success it is.

Stay tuned for a photo-essay……..

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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