Airport fire was a threat to drones
By Vikram Sharma | ENS - HYDERABAD
22nd December 2012 11:39 AM
The fire at the Begumpet airport has brought the wrath of the Centre upon the state government.
The reason why the Centre is alarmed and the state government has been scurrying to nail the cause of the fire is that at least five unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are stationed in one corner of the airport.
After the Monday night fire, which destroyed six planes and the state government’s Agusta Westland chopper, the Ministry of Defence raised serious concerns about the safety of the drones.
Though investigators were quick to discount the sabotage angle, sources said the probe will look into whether the fire was in fact an attempt to destroy the surveillance aircraft.
Top sources disclosed to Express that at least five Heron drones, purchased from Israel some time ago, are parked in a hangar close to the one (hangar no.3) where the fire broke out.
That was why Indian Air Force officials quickly cordoned off the entire airport and did not allow even the local police into the airport for a whole day.
Sources said the matter was serious enough to warrant a visit to the airport by chief minister Kiran Kumar Reddy on Friday though officially it is being maintained that he happened to visit the airport because he landed there in a chopper on his way back from Warangal.
Sources said that the Centre taking a serious view of the danger to the drones, pulled up the government, following which Kiran Reddy visited the hangar within the airport.
Sources said the drones make sorties only at night and utmost secrecy is maintained over their use.
’Of the five drones, four are operational. They only fly at night over the forest areas in Warangal and Karimnagar districts,’’ sources said, adding that earlier they were used to recce Maoist-affected areas in Chhattisgarh.
‘’The armed forces have taken a serious view of the fire and lapses by the state government. Though it is being said that there was no sabotage,, that angled is being probed too,’’ a top source said.
The drones have been at the Begumpet airport for nine months. Presently, defence personnel are being trained on their use.
‘’Once the personnel complete their training, some of the UAVs would be stationed in Kashmir and Sikkim,’’ the source said.
Although the fire did not damage the state-of-the-art drones, South Block is said to have taken up the matter with higher-ups in the Defence Ministry, which urged the state government to conduct a thorough probe and submit a report at the earliest.
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