Quiet moment at Bhattedanda

Published On: June 9, 2018 12:34 AM NPT By: Hemant Arjyal

It is believed that PIA accident investigation commission recommended setting up navaid at Bhattedanda to mark it as an accident black spot

The second opportunity to get atop Bhattedanda came about just four days ago, after over two decades. The first time was to see if placing of some kind of memorial plaque was possible there as some affected family members from Scotland wanted to know then. It is believed that the PIA accident investigation commission had recommended setting up of some sort of navaid there without specifying what it was to be. Its might have just intended to mark it as an accident black spot. 

It is rather strange that the radar dome (or radome), as seen from the valley, appears dwarfed by higher terrain to its right (west). But this was found to be more of a visual aberration, as like any hilltop location, Bhattedanda also commands almost a 360 degrees view. But a patch, apparently about 500 meters away is about 14 meters higher than the spot the 60ton steel pedestal stands. The dome covering protects the sensitive instruments against factors related to weather and environment. Of the three radar assemblies two are new. The one at Bhattedanda is termed as “en-route monopulse secondary surveillance radar” (E-MSSR) with longest range of 250nm. The second at TIA is T-MSSR with 200nm range with “T” standing for terminal area. But unlike the first one it cannot track aircraft flying at lower altitude as the surrounding hills obstruct its line of sight. That aside, the third one being the oldest has a range of only 50nm. It is functioning, more or less, precariously as it can go kaput any time due to unavailability of vital spares so late after its making.      

While the eastern half of the country is more than adequately covered, the far western front, beyond 250nm, has no radar coverage. This needs to be addressed next especially as the possibility of incoming traffic flowing allowed through far western border has not evaporated yet. Providing radar cover to the deficient area is said to be in the offing.

Radar functions 
Radar enhances aviation safety with controllers keeping vigil on progress of the traffic within reach. It includes monitoring air speed, altitude and progress of each flight as animated on the radarscope. It shows airways track and even national boundaries making it easier to check if flights are transiting as instructed or not. If an aircraft needs to deviate from the assigned course, for any reason, it has to have ATC’s permission first. It generally pertains to weather as aircraft seeks to avoid heading straight into storms or clouds loaded with precipitation. It may be pertinent to mention that on the evening of May 13 a few aircraft from south of our border had allegedly encroached upon Nepali airspace, almost at the same time. Apparently these were weather related deviations, but given the chances of traffic conflict our ACC should have been informed nevertheless.

RADAR as an acronym stands for “radio detection and ranging”. It was known quite long ago that radio waves could be reflected by metals and a primitive practical application was developed as WW2 loomed closer. The ability to transmit not just short pulses of radio energy,but ways to capture the reflected pulse and use the difference in phase between the two helped calculate distance of the flying object. It is the basic principle under which it works. 

The main question, in general, is our ability/inability in operating equipment of higher sophistication. The inherent assumption that once installed it will keep operating lifelong is at its core. As such, signs of initial symptoms generally get brushed aside. The neglect only helps in making the problem get bigger. A periodic maintenance check to see if all systems are working normally as stipulated is the usual practice everywhere. 

Unlike in the past, once an equipment/machine was developed and if it kept selling well, nothing much was done to remodel or improve it. The spares were easy to find for years and one could continue believing in old is gold dictum. The electronic gadgets are not just sophisticated, but operate under an extremely dynamic innovation realm. As such, models get outdated much to sooner than one can imagine. The traditional method of replacing faulty parts is generally not applicable any longer. Throwing off the old stuff and buying new is the new mantra. Like humans, equipments also have reasonable useful period. Once installed, you should know when it will reach its limit such that you know in advance when the next equipment replacement is due. If not, it will prove being progressively unreliable and an outright liability, eventually. This is precisely the issue with the old Toshiba radar we have. 

Embarrassing situation  
The visit to Bhattedanda along with two Japanese officials and an old hand who helped design the legendary VOR/DME approach in 1976 was really worth the trip. Among the two, the first gentleman was from Tokyo Area Control Centre and the second was an advisor at JICA and had kept watch on the radar installation works here. The zeal of the project director in getting the Bhattedanda thing successfully built and commissioned was no less heartening either. 
But it was utterly unpleasant to have discovered a plaque, fixed on a rocky protrusion at the PIA-268 impact site. It was found to have been forcibly torn out. We fail to understand the purpose behind the despicable desecration and it was more embarrassing in guest’s presence. As an impromptu gesture, we spent a quiet minute in memory of those who met their death unceremoniously in 1992. In the mean time, a fight making RNP-AR approach to TIA flew silently way off west and well below Bhattedanda. The little sound it made during descent was thankfully beyond our earshot during the moment of solitude.   


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