Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Aero India 09 continues to draw large crowds as it enters into its third day. Even more footfalls are expected in the remaining two days that coincide with the weekend. Aerial displays in the morning and afternoon sessions are as spectacular and breathtaking as in any major air show held worldwide. Even while much of the focus remains on the magnificent flying machines and the daredevil pilots, the singular edifice that facilitates and coordinates all the flying activity – the Air Traffic Control (ATC) tower can be aptly described the heart of the air show.
At the ATC of the Yelahanka airbase of the Indian Air Force (IAF) frenetic activities begin much before dawn-break, continuing well beyond dusk. Handling over 60,000 movements annually and with two major airfields - Bengaluru International Airport Limited (BIAL) and the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) airport in the near vicinity, the airfield is among the busiest military airfields in the country. The task for the Chief Operations Officer (COO), Wing Commander NVM Unnithan and other officers manning the ATC remains a huge responsibility. With the world focus on the airbase at the biennial air show the professional air warriors have left nothing to chance.
Bristling with activities, a 24x7 manned 'Base Operations Room' controlling all aspects of the flying and coordinating with various agencies including 'flying display director', routine movements, VIP protocol, ground handling agencies, BIAL, HAL remains fully operational at the ATC tower.
While an anxious F-16 pilot, Lieutenant Mike Benson of the USAF, coordinating the flight schedule of the C-130 Hercules was happy after the arrangements were explained by the COO, Captain Uphoff and Liutenant Michael Schumacher 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 espirit-de-corps of airmen exemplified at the air show.
Preparations began six months in advance according to Wing Commander Unnithan and coordination meetings were crucial as Aero India 09 was the first air show since the opening of BIAL last year. With the lateral separation between Yelahanka and BIAL airfields being just 4.3 nautical miles it was imperative to halt all civilian flights during the air displays. There was full cooperation extended by BIAL informed Wing Commander Unnithan and the flight displays are going perfect as expected, he added.
Among the significant aspects in the preparations included the improvement in airfield infrastructure and other work services. The resurfacing of the complete taxi-track, airfield links, refitting of the runway lighting, drainage of the 8,500 feet long runway was completed in just four months ahead of the show informed 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. Not without reason does a banner display - 'You are about to witness the most stressful profession in the world' as one takes the flight of stairs leading to the ATC tower. Significantly while there are so many pilots from different countries, speaking in different accents, the articulate ATC controllers are equally adept at picking up the nuances, ensuring two-way communication between the pilots and ATC remains unambiguous and crystal clear.
Flight safety aspects remain paramount, as the spectre of bird-hits cannot be ruled out leading to catastrophic consequences. 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 on specially procured silent 'e-bikes' continue to prowl with double-barrel guns in the airfield area. In addition, introduction of 'whistlers' a pyro-technique device emitting high frequency, high-pitch sound that irritate the birds are being effectively used. Closure of the fish and poultry markets in the near vicinity on specified days and covering the water bodies with nets are some of the other initiatives undertaken by the IAF officials of the airbase.
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. With weather being the best at this time of the year, Aero India shows are most appropriate in February, he added.
13/02/09 Press Information Bureau

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