The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) has quietly upgraded the status of Tejgaon airfield to that of a domestic airport, making the air force's objection to the metro rail route along Bijoy Sarani even stronger.
By upgrading its status from a short take-off and landing (STOL) airport, the CAAB, headed by an air commodore, has increased the airport's importance.
The civil aviation authority made the decision sometime between October 16 and 17 this year.
A couple of months ago, the Bangladesh Air Force raised objections to the proposed 19-metre high metro rail along Bijoy Sarani. Arguing that the metro rail would hinder military air operations from the Tejgaon airstrip, it made a plea that the airfield be kept functional.
The BAF also recommended an alternative route along Khamarbari-Farmgate which would affect the Jatiya Sangsad Bhaban complex. The prime minister opted for the realignment of the route along the parliament complex in line with the BAF suggestion, a move which drew huge flak from different technical experts.
The experts, among whom are architects, planners and civic activists, termed the BAF stance unfounded on many occasions and strongly argued that the metro rail would not affect the present operations of the airfield. Besides, the airstrip was abandoned in 1988 and its location has been seriously affecting the city's development, they argued.
As these arguments and counter arguments kept heating up along with public sentiment going against the air force's stance, the prime minister in mid-October contacted the leaders of various pressure groups and asked them to hold a dialogue with the BAF to reach a consensus.
Accordingly, a group of professionals and civic activists met the chief of air staff in October to convince him that the metro rail could be built and at the same time the runway would remain functional.
But within two days of the dialogue, the CAAB on its website declared the Tejgaon airstrip a domestic airport by adding it to a list of airports without any formal announcement.
However, its website details on navigational aides, air traffic service and aeronautical communications for air operations in Bangladesh territory make no mention of Tejgaon airfield as an airport.
Requesting anonymity, a director of CAAB said, “A domestic airport requires all the technical features and passenger services as an international airport as per rules of the International Civil Aviation Organisation.”
It was pointed out to the CAAB chief that Tejgaon was a STOL airport and that services required even for a STOL airport were unavailable. The change happened within the following two days, the director said.
In fact, the government shifted all operational activities of the airport to a newly built international airport in 1980, as it could no more serve as an airport.
The private airlines GMG, Parabat and Aero Bengal launched domestic flights from Tejgaon in the late nineties but they too discontinued using the Tejgaon airport. All domestic flights to and from Dhaka are now operated from Shahjalal International Airport.
Domestic operations were moved to Shahjalal as Tejgaon turned obsolete and is located in a densely populated area, said Prof Md Shamsul Hoque, who teaches airport development at Buet.
The BAF and army aviation wing have been using the airfield to fly helicopters (which do not require runways), relief cargo and training planes since the 1980's.
The BAF too moved operations of its fixed-wing fighter planes to Shahjalal International Airport in the mid 1990's, said a retired high-ranking BAF officer.
Air Commodore Mahmud Hussain, chairman of CAAB, could not be contacted for comment despite repeated attempts at his office and over the mobile phone. Group Captain M Saeedul Hasan Khan, member for operations and planning of CAAB, is abroad.
Azad Zahirul Islam, director of Air Traffic Services and Aerodromes, declined to talk on the record.