Karipur safety issues flagged 9 years ago, says air safety expert Mohan Ranganathan

Karipur safety issues flagged 9 years ago, says air safety expert Mohan Ranganathan
Security personnel stand in front of the wreckage from an Air India Express jet, which was carrying more than 190 passengers and crew from Dubai, after it crashed at Calicut International Airport in Karipur, Kerala, early on August 8, 2020. AFP
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A letter detailing the potential danger of landing at runway 10 of Karipur airport was sent to the Civil Aviation Ministry nine years ago, air safety expert Mohan Ranganathan has said.

Captain Ranganathan is a member of the Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Committee (CASAC), constituted by the ministry. He said the communication, which comprised photographs and evidence to prove that the runway was unsafe, was not even perused by the ministry officials, Capt. Ranganathan said.

DGCA responsible

In an incisive statement, he said the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) was ultimately responsible for the August 7 plane accident at Karipur which killed at least 18 people including the pilot and the co-pilot.

The runway at Karipur was a tabletop one. At the end of Runway 10 is a sheer descent. In Karipur, most landings were on runway 28 and the approach was from the opposite direction. There was excessive rubber accumulation in the last 2,500 feet of runway 10. This is residuary from the planes landing in the opposite direction.

Excess rubber

Capt. Raganathan said the airport was not removing this rubber from the runway. The runway friction tests were not being conducted at regular intervals and the equipment to conduct the test was not available with the Karipur airport and it had to be commandeered from Chennai.

Ineffective braking

Capt. Ranganathan said he had informed the authorities that the braking would be ineffective due to the presence of excess rubber on runway 10. Also, the sheer descent at the end of the runway could only make things worse.

Karipur safety issues flagged 9 years ago, says air safety expert Mohan Ranganathan

Tailwinds

During rains, the wind was from the west and the aircraft would endure tailwind (wind from the rear). This also increases the possibility of an accident. So, it was wrong to land the aircraft on runway 10.

One reason why the experienced pilot chose to land the aircraft on this runway could be possibly due to fatigue. Pilots may take wrong calls due to fatigue. The pilots were overworked, going by DGCA standards. The accident occurred right ahead of the closure of their duty time.

Tabletop runways

The functioning of tabletop runways should be governed by special safety protocols and standards. But all of that is still existent only on paper.

A lot of safety recommendations were made to the DGCA after the Mangaluru aircraft accident of May 22, 2010. The DGCA claims that it had implemented a lot of these recommendations but the truth is otherwise.

Karipur does not have the capability to land wide-body aircraft. The runway there is classified as 4C. But the runway was redesignated as 4E to enable landing of large aircraft. This is illegal. The accident would have been accentuated if a larger aircraft was involved.

Aircraft specs

Aircraft larger that Boeing 737 and Airbus 320/321 should not be landed at the Karipur airport. The Union Minister of Civil Aviation is responsible if any aircraft above the specified ones are landed there.

Karipur safety issues flagged 9 years ago, says air safety expert Mohan Ranganathan

Safety equipment

The airport should install equipment that aid pilots in safe-landing. But the authorities are more focused on taking up cursory works like beautification. Money is not being spent on improving the runway. The runway end safety area should be attended to and the facility should be lighted up. Capt. Ranganathan said he had pointed this out to the authorities in 2011. He said he had also informed Justice V R Krishna Iyer, a relative, of this. Justice Krishna Iyer had written a letter to the then Civil Aviation Minister. The Minister had then replied promising action but nothing much has been done.

(Captain Mohan Ranganathan is a member of the Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Committee set up by the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation after the Mangaluru air accident of 2010).

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