In a tragic incident on Friday night, an Air India Express flight (AXB1344, B737) flying from Dubai skidded off the runway and broke into two pieces at Calicut International Airport at Kozhikode, leaving 18 dead. The Boeing-737 flight was carrying 190 passengers and crew, including 10 infants, as a part of the ‘Vande Bharat’ mission. The aircraft had overshot the runway during heavy rain and fell down to the valley below the tabletop runway.
While the safety of the airport is being questioned after the accident, earlier the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had issued a show-cause notice to the Director of the Calicut International airport after the aviation regulator had discovered ‘critical safety lapses’ such as cracks, excessive rubber deposits and water stagnation on the runway. Interestingly, the DGCA had warned of the unsafe condition of the runway 9 years ago and cautioned about the possibility of a plane accident similar to the one that occurred in May 2010 at Mangalore which killed 158 people onboard.
2011 DGCA report warned about a possible accident
A report by the Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council, accessed by CNN News 18, had reported that the Calicut Airport was devoid of the minimum 90-metre long buffer zone beyond the runway, which is necessary in case a flight overshoots the runway. “A 240-meter safety area beyond the runway is critical in case the aircraft overshoots but the Calicut runway doesn’t have even the minimum 90 meters. Any aircraft overrunning the runway will fall, possibly breaking upon impact,” the 2011 report emphasised.
Aviation expert also wrote a letter to the Civil Aviation Ministry in 2011
As per reports, Mohan Ranganathan, an aviation expert who prepared the report 9 years ago, had stated that there were only 75 metres of safety area on either side of the runway instead of the recommended 150 metres. In a letter to the then Ministry of Civil Aviation Secretary Nasim Zaidi, Ranganathan emphasised, “There has been no effort on the part of AAI to rectify the safety infringements … The runway strip is just half the minimum width laid down. This fact was known to the DGCA… Have they considered the danger involved? Has the DGCA or airlines laid down any operational restrictions or special procedures.”
Airports Authority of India overlooked recommendations
Aviation expert Mohan Ranganathan had highlighted the dangers involved in landing on Runway 10 and urged authorities to not permit landing on the said runway, due to lack of safety measures. 9 years later, the Air India Express flight overshot the runway and fell 35 feet bellow and broke on impact. As per reports, the Calicut International Airport had a tabletop runway which is difficult for landing. These runways have a steep drop and are built on high altitudes by levelling the surface.