Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Red alert: Airstrips may be used for terror attack


Security To Be Beefed Up Across State


Mateen Hafeez & Manju V | TNN

Mumbai: Intelligence agencies have sounded a terror red alert over the possible use of any one of Maharashtra’s 24 unused or little-used airstrips to launch unmanned light aircraft laden with explosives.
    The alert has been shot off to all security agencies, which have been asked to monitor unused air strips against launch of attacks on civilians and military establishments. The city’s Juhu airport and the international airport are also under the scanner. 

    The two-page intelligence alert, issued on September 21, specifically mentions names of airports that require tighter security.   “There is a likely threat of utilization of unused air strips by anti-national elements to launch lightweight airplanes with an aim to target civilian and military establishments of key importance,” the alert communication stated. It further listed names of all such airstrips in Maharashtra (see box)

    The commandant CISF has also been alerted. Other than CISF, this copy has been sent to the city crime branch, state ATS, special branch and state intelligence bureau. 

    Sources said India, like the US, Europe and Australia, has a large number of “uncontrolled” airfields or airstrips that are not serviced by air traffic control. What this means is that an aircraft can land or take off from these strips without attracting attention. Some of these airstrips are in Augrangabad, Jalgaon, Nagpur and Lonavla , among others. 

    “We have discussed this alert with our officers and will help the concerned agencies with whatever input and information we have. We are also keeping an eye on people who have knowledge of airports or have travelled in airplanes in recent past,” said a security officer.   Since these airstrips don’t generate revenue, their owners, be it the government or a private party, spend little on critical essentials such as perimeter fencing and security personnel. 

    These airstrips cannot support heavy commercial passenger aircraft. Most can handle small aircraft; for instance, a single engine, twoseater, piston aircraft such as a Cessna 152, which is capable of carrying a payload of 50 kg. This can pose a serious security hazard.

The Proposal A plan to deploy 117 state police personnel is pending with the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security since two months. AAI and BCAS have been promising security at the airport for two years now. There hasn’t been any change in the situation on the ground till date, though
Easy Entry Points Missing boundary wall: A 6km stretch of Juhu airport’s boundary wall is dilapidated, and a 1.5km stretch is completely broken and encroached upon. Some parts of the boundary wall were rebuilt but the aerodrome is still an open fi eld, easy to enter through the city side
Slum Encroachment Slums are spread over 29 acres of land inside the airport, barely 100 metres from the secondary runway. This poses several risks —slumdwellers play cricket on the runway, and several small thefts and damage to aircraft have also been reported
No CISF presence: There are no CISF personnel nor security forces to man the airport’s boundary wall. The airport is guarded by around 30 police personnel who find it tough to stay there round the clock due to lack of basic facilities such as washrooms and toilets
    There are no CCTVs
    Security checks of people entering the airport are done individually by the various companies using the aerodrome instead of a nodal public agency

The Times of India, October 1, 2013

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