The new domestic terminal’s problems seem endless. While airport authorities continue to brush them under the carpet, experts call for a hard look at the building’s construction and operation

Faulty ramps, leaking air-conditioning ducts, dirty restrooms, cracked glass panels — and now crashing ceiling panels. Problems are piling up for the new Chennai airport.

Officials of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) said the false ceiling panels fell in the small hours of Monday due to heavy winds, but this incident is only indicative of the engineering deficiencies in the new domestic terminal.

“As it is, the false ceiling was weak and damp, and so when heavy winds blew in, it crashed. We suspect that the panels had not been secured or installed properly. Had the safety audit (which took place in the first week of April before the terminal was opened) been carried out diligently, this might not have occurred,” said an AAI official. This incident is not new to the Chennai airport — false ceiling panels at the old international terminal collapsed in September last year. “But those panels gave way because they were old and due to be replaced. This excuse is not valid for a brand new terminal,” the official added.

Meteorological department officials said the wind speed recorded in Meenambakkam around 2 a.m. on Monday stood at 45 km/hr, which is not very high.

A structural engineering expert from IIT-Madras said, “Engineers should have factored in much higher wind speeds while installing the false ceiling, especially because it is a non-structural element that is incapable of taking heavy loads. A good engineer would estimate different combinations of load, and take into consideration the impact of the wind blowing in from the gates. This is a typical case of an engineering defect.”

Another AAI official said the false ceiling was put up only a year-and-a-half ago.

“The problem is not with the material. It is of superior quality, provided by Armstrong Ceilings India,” he said, implying that the problem lay with the installation of the panels.

A representative of Armstrong Ceilings India said they had supplied false ceilings to Mumbai and Lucknow airports too, but had not received any complaints from these cities.

“Just after the contractor installed the false ceiling at Chennai airport, we inspected it and told the AAI about a couple of rectifications that were required. We were called in for a second inspection, and we observed that the defects continued to persist, and so we did not give a satisfactory report. We expected this to happen. Our material has the required third-party certification and is of good quality,” he said.

D. Sudhakar Reddy of Air Passengers’ Association of India said, “This is a shameful incident. The construction and security of the airport must be looked into by a special investigating team.”

Timeline

November 2007: Land acquisition for Chennai airport begins

October 2008: Foundation stone laid and expansion work started

March 2010: Former Union civil aviation minister Praful Patel informs Rajya Sabha that work will be completed by January 2011

April 2012: First trial held at which passengers allowed to exit through new terminal.

July 18, 2012: AAI says airport to be operationalized after August 15

January 31,2013: After a delay of five years, new terminals finally inaugurated but not thrown open for use

February 20, 2013: Faulty baggage ramp delays opening of new domestic terminal.

April 11, 2013: Operations finally begin at new domestic terminal

April 18, 2013: Passengers complain about leaking air-conditioning ducts

April 24,2013: Passengers complain of pigeon droppings inside new domestic terminal

May 3,2013: 10 glass panels at new domestic terminal crack, later replaced

May 13, 2013: False ceiling panels inside new domestic terminal fall off