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Runways no recreation centres  

Shihab Sarkar   | Published: September 14, 2019 22:10:16 | Updated: September 15, 2019 22:08:25


Spotting aeroplanes has not yet developed in Bangladesh as a popular hobby. In many overseas countries, especially in the West, this hobby-cum-game has taken over a large section of youths. Spotting is just watching a passenger aircraft from close distance, either on flight or moving along the runway, and taking photographs of them. These are the days of security-related over-alertness when it comes to planes. Too much curiosity about a plane by suspiciously behaving people generally raises the spectres of hijacking or other forms of sabotage; viewing passenger aircraft unconventionally may not, thus, pass off as an innocuous pastime in many countries. Even in the countries in South Asia.

However, at times these apprehensions prove to be over-reactive. There has not been much sabotage incident involving the passenger planes of Bangladesh. But there have been close shave with nearly successful attempts, and accidents --- a few of which could have ended up being fatal disasters. Naturally for this country, the venues of the about-to-occur accidents mostly are runways. It's also true the vacant places beside the runways are highly suitable for having close views of a plane. This possibility may sound anachronistic in well-protected airports in advanced countries.

In this country runways appear to be located in many people's neighbourhoods. Spotters are hardly found in the vicinity. The people who fill the areas near a runway are plane-gazers --- those who in all likelihood may not have the opportunity ever to board a plane. These crowds get precariously close to the runways to have a glimpse of moving or speeding aircraft. The suitable occasions are the afternoons of Eid and other national holidays. There seem to be no security personnel, barbed wire fences or other barriers to prevent plane watchers from entering the runway areas. Even if there are obstructive devices, like even thick walls, in place, a section of people make openings through them in remote areas. Runways in almost all Bangladesh airports are blighted by these intrusions. The irony is the airport security authorities are well aware of the menace. Upon learning about a hole made in a wall or the removal of fences, they make these barriers harder for outsiders to tamper with. It doesn't take much time before the security measures revert to the earlier state.

There are few countries in the world, the peripheral off-limit areas of whose airports are so porous. The print and electronic media in Bangladesh continue to release stories on the slapdash security systems around the country's airports. From Dhaka's Shahjalal Airport to the Osmani Airport in Sylhet along with the mid-level and smaller airports, almost all of them have been termed by civil aviation experts as vulnerable to hazardous incidents. They mostly point out the breaches in the runway security fences. Teenage boys are found playing cricket or loitering in the highly restricted areas. Domestic animals grazing in the areas are a common spectacle. The one that overwhelms all the views beside a busy runway comprises plane-watchers in festive mood and attired in their best. They are seen passing a whole afternoon in the area, with vendors of light snacks doing a brisk business. Stray dogs moving around are not too uncommon.

To call the situation fraught is gross understatement. Many would feel tempted to define the state of the country's larger airports dangerous. The decline in security and surveillance at Bangladesh airports reminds many of that youth who sneaked into a plane's wheel well stowaway before it started taking off. Those days are now over. But the stress on making the runways free of security breaches remains relevant. If nothing terrible happens at the main airports, Bangladesh appears to be not fully free of hazards created on the runways and the surrounding areas. Correction of the security gaps, thus, is of utmost importance.

shihabskr@ymail.com

 

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