Airport golf course a safety, security threat

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The 157-hectare golf course complex comprising hotels, restaurants and villas that has been approved on the premises of the Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City could undermine flight safety, contrary to the investor's claims, Le Trong Sanh, former chief of Flight Management Department at the airport, tells Thanh Nien.

Thanh Nien: The project investor, Long Bien Investment JSC, has stressed that it had consulted the Ministry of Defense and other related agencies about measures guaranteeing the airport's security during and after construction. Construction has already begun under a license issued by the People's Committee of Tan Binh District. Can you comment?

Le Trong Sanh: It's already hard for people in areas around the airport to build houses of seven or eight floors due to flight safety concerns, so it's incomprehensible that the investor is allowed to build hotels within the complex of up to 12 floors, or 50 meters high. In fact, all buildings within the radius of 30 kilometers from the airport's center are likely to affect flight safety. Under regulations, works within the radius that are higher than 45 meters are considered higher than the safety limit, and their investors have to seek approval in terms of "space of safety" (safe space for an airplane to take off land and circle).

By saying so, I want to stress that even a work which is far from the airport can affect flight safety. So, it's impossible to say that a 50-meter building next to circling routes and runways won't affect flight safety.

The investor has said that the project area lies parallel to the airport at a safe distance from runways, so it will guarantee absolute safety for the airport's operations.

Flight safety isn't related to just on-ground factors. A certain distance from runways isn't enough to say that the safety is guaranteed.

While taking off and landing, an airplane always needs space to increase and decrease its flying height in accordance with a circling route. Under regulations on flying within the Tan Son Nhat Airport's area, the circling route is never set up to the south of runway because it is already occupied by terminals, airplane parking lots, fuel storage and residential areas. It is only set up to the north of the runways, which is the location of the project area.

Big planes need wide circling routes, so to erect fences and construct high buildings next to these routes is very dangerous, undermining flight safety.

Furthermore, in aviation, we need to consider the worst case scenarios like when airplanes operate at night under bad weather conditions (heavy rains, big winds and low clouds) which cause bad vision, or when they have technical problems. At that time, what if the pilot unfortunately can't land the airplane on the runway properly but goes off track, crashing into the fences and the buildings?

We also need to take into consideration pilots' fatigue after long flights, especially international flights that are more than ten hours long. They need a wide space without obstacles to make landings. If we build obstacles right next to the place they are going to land, it will put great pressure on them.

Every day there are hundreds of international and domestic flights with large airplanes at the Tan Son Nhat Airport. Who can make sure that 100 percent of these airplanes won't have problems?

It was planned that when Long Thanh International Airport in the southern province of Dong Nai is completed in 2020, Tan Son Nhat will mainly serve domestic flights, meaning that its flight frequency will decrease drastically. Would that make a difference?

According to the investor, the golf complex is expected to be completed and start operating in 2013. Even if we can complete Long Thanh Airport in 2020 and move the international terminals there, within the seven years, hundreds of thousands of flights that take off and land at Tan Son Nhat will still have to face risks. If just one of the flights has problems, the consequences will be very critical. Everyone knows that in aviation, flight safety is extremely important, because although the rate of air crashes is low, a crash is always disastrous.

Every building within the airport has to be built with consideration to the worst scenario possible.

The investor has said the area has been abandoned for many years so the golf complex, which will cost nearly US$300 million to build, will help make the land use more effective.

It's the argument of people on ground with no knowledge of safety in the sky. A land area abandoned in the airport doesn't mean that it's totally useless for flight safety matters. And, such area isn't necessarily meant for buildings as believed by business people. In aviation, safety is still the priority.

The investor's argument is that the project will create jobs, attract tourists, and meet people's demand for entertainment. But I wonder how many people will take the risk of staying in hotels and villas that are located next to airplanes' circling route.

With hundreds of flights per day, and airplanes usually flying at the height of 300 meters when reaching the area to land on runways, the noise pollution issue is critical. How can people take rest or study with such pollution, considering that even residential areas which are quite far from the airport can't stand it?

While the project's investment effectiveness is still unknown, I'm concerned that by creating such obstacles in the airport, other countries will be discouraged from opening routes to HCMC. It's then probable that the loss of revenues from aviation will be greater than the golf complex's income.

What about security issues in building a golf course and hospitality services within the airport?

It's a critical matter. Currently the whole airport has strong walls and fences with a series of security posts for patrols. That means the airport's security is strictly guaranteed to stop all illegal invasions. However, when building an area for services gathering many people, particularly those who stay there for long, we need to consider situations where the airport's security is compromised. We cannot guarantee that the fences and walls will be able to hinder people from the complex climbing over and entering the place where airplanes take off and land, destroying airplanes, fuel storage tanks and what not"¦

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