Air India Express crash lessons not learnt; safety still ignored at Calicut
In a letter to a select few airlines, the authorities mentioned that the regulatory requirement is not met due to terrain and land constraints at the Calicut airport
The airport in Calicut (also called the Kozhikode airport and Karipur airport) has witnessed an accident and two serious incidents in the past three years in which aircraft have departed the runway surface. Only last year, in August, an Air India Express Boeing 737, operating a Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) flight from Dubai to repatriate Indians stranded due to the Covid-19 pandemic, broke into two pieces after skidding off the wet runway amid inclement weather and falling about 35 feet into a gorge. This crash involving Flight 1344 resulted in the death of around 20 people.
The runway in Calicut is constructed on a tabletop, has hills in close proximity, and experiences heavy rainfall. This makes it a challenging runway to operate to and from. One would expect additional safety buffers in terms of facilities and infrastructure. Unfortunately, commercial gains have taken priority over safety issues.
If we analyse the runway strip at this airport, one will get an idea of where the safety is headed. Denial is the first step post an accident and the same has been the case here. The authorities are aware of the safety concerns but have not acted to build safety barriers and that is a matter of grave concern.
Runway strip, as defined in the Directorate General of Civil Aviation's (DGCA) Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR), is a defined area including the runway and stopway, if provided, and intended to reduce the risk of damage to aircraft running off a runway, and to protect aircraft flying over it during take-off or landing operations.
In my earlier blogs, I had highlighted the need for providing the runway strip for the safety of aircraft involved in a runway excursion, be it from the side of a runway or the beginning/end. The figure below gives the regulatory requirement that the Calicut airport must comply with in order to meet safety requirements.
DGCA regulatory requirements
Interestingly, in the reply to a Right to Information (RTI) query filed by Safety Matters, NGO dedicated to building a generative safety culture, the authorities stated that the runway meets the DGCA regulations. They also issued a letter, not a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) or Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP), to a select few airlines informing them about the conditions under which the airport may be shut down for flight operations since the regulatory requirement for the runway strip is not met at the airport.
However, there ought to be a notification in the form of a NOTAM or AIP that alerts all users who may elect to use the airport as part of normal operations or owing to conditions arising out of an emergency.
Airport letter stating non-compliance with regulations
The letter to the airlines mentioned that the regulatory requirement is not met due to terrain and land constraints. However, the fact is that construction of a runway strip of 300 m was always practicable and not a constraint. The construction tenders have been floated by the airport authorities but after a delay of a few years and a tragic accident.
If the airport earns good revenues from passenger and cargo movements in high numbers, what is the harm in investing some amount towards safety?
(This article first appeared in avobanter.com)