Engineering defect could be cause: officials, experts

Two more glass panels located near the arrival hall of the new domestic terminal at Chennai airport have developed cracks.

Only a month ago, around 10 glass panels on the airside of the new domestic and international terminals of the airport had developed cracks. Officials of Airports Authority of India (AAI) had said the cracked panels were subsequently replaced.

Officials and experts say the fresh cracks may have been caused due to an engineering defect. “One of the glass panels has had cracks for a while now. The second one may have been cracked recently. It looks like the panels were not fixed properly during construction and this may have caused the cracks,” said an AAI official.

The cracks might continue to develop for a couple of months as the building is fairly new and the glass panels need time to stabilise, he said.

“We purchased the glass panels from Saint Gobain. After we received complaints about cracked panels, we sent samples of the panels for testing and we are yet to determine the exact cause for this problem. One of the issues could be the impurities present in the glass. We will replace the cracked one soon and will take steps to ensure safety,” said another official.

However officials of Saint Gobain said they had also supplied glass to Bangalore airport and had not received any complaints from them. “I don’t think impurities alone can cause the breaking of the panels since we ensure they are of high quality. Undue stress laid on the glass panels when they are being fixed could be one of the main reasons behind this problem,” said an official of Saint Gobain.

Mr. Kamal Dasgupta, acting director of Central Glass and Ceramic Research Institute, said, “It is difficult to say what caused the glass panels to crack without testing them. While glass usually has impurities of varying quantities, the impurity alone may not have caused the glass to break. Any mechanical stress developed will accelerate the cracking.  One of the possible reasons could also be improper fitting of the panels.”

At Kolkata airport, which is also AAI-run, several panels have developed cracks.

A structural engineering expert from IIT-Madras said the cracks had developed only because of engineering deficiency. “Glass cannot develop cracks on its own since it is manufactured after a highly rigorous and mechanised process. There is definitely an engineering defect which must have led to this problem. The glass may not have been properly cushioned within the frame,” he said.

It was only in January that the new terminals, built at a cost of over Rs. 2,000 crore, were inaugurated. The domestic terminal, which was thrown open to the public in April, was mired in controversy after panels of a false ceiling collapsed in mid-May.

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