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A green problem: Trees not rockets or guns threaten air safety in Gilgit

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GILGIT: Tall trees near Gilgit Airport’s runway have been a problem in the past and have cropped up again. And the solution is as simple as chopping or trimming them and as complicated as cutting through the red tape to get land owners compensation.

HunzaNews,, August 26th, 2014.

According to a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) official, who wished to remain anonymous, the issue first came up in 2010-11 when some trees near Gilgit airport were removed and some trimmed. The owners were paid up to Rs150,000 by the district administration and were asked to not grow the foliage again,  but they paid no heed, said the official.

More recently, Pakistan International Airlines Captain Sajjad Gul lodged a verbal complaint to the G-B chief minister (CM) who was on the flight Gul piloted from Islamabad to Gilgit. Gul told CM Mehdi Shah the trees near the runway were a cause for concern and can hinder the safety of air operations.

Passing the baton

Shah then directed the Gilgit deputy commissioner (DC) to take up the matter and remove the trees without any delay.

The DC, according to documents available with The Express Tribune, tasked the assistant commissioner (AC) to remove the foliage from the apron side (where planes are parked, unloaded and boarded) of the airport.

However, according to a report from July 24, 2014, the AC realised the matter was within the CAA’s ambit and the airport authority needed to be part of the solution. He informed his boss, the DC, that the CAA needed to pursue the removal of the trees.

Green for green

The AC had earlier visited the site with officials of the revenue department and had attempted to negotiate with the landowners.

The landowners argued that in 2013, former CAA Gilgit airport manager Issa Khan had promised compensation for cutting trees but only trimmed about 30-40 trees and the owners never received any money. The AC’s report added that the former airport manager was unwilling to get involved in the matter as he had retired.

Residents of Sonikote village, adjacent to the airport’s runway, had also submitted a resolution to the CAA that suggested the land near the airport should be bought from them at market rates or alternate land be provided to them. The villagers also demanded a 30% quota of jobs at the airport.

In his report to the DC, the AC noted compensation was necessary to get rid of this persisting problem of foliage and criticised the CAA for not addressing the problem or the demands of the villagers. He further mentioned the local administration was in a fix as no response has been received from the CAA Headquarters in Karachi.

The AC’s report mentioned that the local administration had even forwarded the cost (Rs415,880) of getting the trees cut to the local CAA office but no concrete action was taken.

After receiving the report, the Gilgit district magistrate then wrote to the local CAA and directed them to approach the CAA Headquarters regarding compensation which could then be disbursed to land owners. Failing this, the magistrate wrote, the local management cannot be held responsible for any disruption in flights due to the trees.

Much back and forth is said to have taken place between the CAA Gilgit authorities and the district management, however, compensation is still awaited and the trees still remain.

In a letter sent by the DC to the Gilgit airport manager, he “once again intimated the amount of Rs415,880 for cutting /removing trees needs to be immediately remitted to this office so the trees can be removed.”

It went on to state, “Let me make it clear, in case of any untoward accident in the meanwhile, responsibility will rest on the airport manager and CAA.”

Although insiders at the CAA Headquarters claim the relevant branch received this communication, CAA Headquarters Spokesperson Pervez George told The Express Tribuneover the telephone that there is no record of such communication.

However, the CAA official who had requested anonymity had confirmed the matter went as far back as 2010. He said, “The CAA has to pay around Rs450,000 in compensation to residents and the process has been kicked off. They will be paid through the district administration pending approval from the head office in Karachi.”

He clarified only those landowners are paid whose trees are uprooted or chopped; not trimmed.

Regarding the process of communicating any issues of safety at any airport, George said even if the deputy commissioner had sent a letter, “no one has been informed through the systems already in place at the airports.”

 Express Tribune

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