Helicopter landing sites and water landing strips will improve safety and the economy.
By Ivana Jovanovic and Miki Trajkovski for Southeast European Times in Belgrade and Ohrid -- 04/03/14
A helipad atop a commercial building in Belgrade will become operational once the construction of the building is completed. [Nikola Barbutov/SETimes]
Serbia and Macedonia are constructing alternative aircraft landing strips to improve transportation of citizens in cases of accidents, natural and man-made disasters, as well as to develop tourism. Serbia's civil aviation directorate has asked 130 municipalities to register possible landing areas for helicopters, popularly called helipads.
Two of the 55 municipalities that responded, Knjazevac and Cajetina, already received construction permits.
There are nine helipads in Serbia owned by private companies but they do not lend them for others to use.
Civil aviation directorate officials said helipads offer multiple benefits and are inexpensive to build and operate compared to airport runways.
"Such landing platforms are ... especially needed in emergency situations when it is crucial to act quickly, as well as when access to some sites is possible only by helicopters. In such instances, it is very important to have registered, known places that are safe for take-off and landing," the directorate told SETimes in a statement.
The directorate said it covers the costs of helipad registration and ground control and also advises participating municipalities.
Serbia needs a modern, safe and reliable air traffic system that will satisfy the country's increasing transportation needs but also satisfy the EU's standards of ecological sustainability and financial responsibility, said Olja Cokorilo, an assistant professor at the Faculty of Transport and Traffic Engineering in Belgrade.
"Developing and establishing a network of helipads is of strategic importance for the development of air traffic for a number of reasons," Cokorilo told SETimes.
Cokorilo said one main reason to construct helipads in cities and tourist centres is to improve citizen safety and quality of life.
"[That includes] faster transport to hospitals, assistance in emergency situations such as evacuations and delivery of food, search and rescue, transport of human organs intended for transplantation, especially following road accidents, as well as surveillance of highways," she said.
Experts said alternative landing strips will provide greater mobility to better integrate regions in the Balkans.
Macedonia announced it wants to build a hydroport for aircraft on Lake Ohrid that will connect it with destinations that have water-landing capability in Croatia, Turkey, Greece and beyond.
"The Macedonian government will choose a private partner or concessionaire responsible to implement the project through awarding a concession or offering an agreement for a public-private partnership," the Macedonia ministry of transport and communications said.
Having a hydroport is important for developing tourism, especially with EU countries like Germany, where surface coal digs were turned into water landing sites, said Donco Taneski, president of the Hotel Association of Macedonia.
"It will attract wealthier tourists who own smaller aircraft," Taneski told SETimes.
Taneski said the optimal approach will be to develop water-landing capability on all larger water surfaces in Macedonia.
"They do not take much space and there is no construction with solid materials," Taneski said.
Experts said accessibility is a key issue in cases of forest fires and other disasters frequently affecting the Balkans, where hydroports offer the added possibility to develop fire-fighting capability from the air.
"Certain areas in Ohrid are inaccessible and [the authorities] cannot act in case of fires," Saso Tockov, president of the Red Cross in Ohrid, told SETimes. "But constructing a hydroport requires a deeper analysis and specific regulation. Our institution, which also deals with water safety, will have a contribution."
What can the Balkan countries do to develop alternative landing sites? Share your opinion in the comments section.