By Fakir Balaji
Mangaluru, The state-run Mangaluru international airport at Bajpe in coastal Karnataka does not allow flight operations while it rains owing to poor visibility thereby preventing planes from skidding, an official said on Saturday.
“As our airport is also built on the hillside with a table-top runway, flight operations are not allowed during heavy rains, as visibility will be poor and chance of skidding on the runway is more,” Mangaluru airport manager V.V. Rao told IANS.
Mangaluru is about 360km west of the Karnataka capital Bengaluru.
Rao’s observation came in the light of an Air India Express Boeing 737 from Dubai crash landing at the Kozhikode airport in neighbouring Kerala on Friday night after skidding on the table-top runway amid heavy rains, claiming 18 lives, including its 2 pilots.
“In fact, an Indigo flight from Bengaluru earlier in the day was not given permission to land at our airport as it was raining heavily and visibility was poor though we have the instrumentation landing facility,” said Rao.
As the rainy season brings in heavy showers and are intense with gusty winds during the southwest monsoon from June to September every year especially on the west coast, the DGCA (Director General Civil Aviation) does not allow flight operations when it rains heavily at the Bajpe airport since an Air India Express Being 737-800 crashed on May 22, 2010, claiming 158 lives. A
“The state-run Airport Authority of India (AAI) has implemented a slew of recommendations of the civil aviation regulator (DGCA) made on the basis of the inquiry report into the 2010 plane crash to ensure smooth take-off and safe landing of passenger and cargo aircraft on domestic and overseas routes,” recalled Rao.
Before the Covid-19 induced lockdown was enforced on March 25 and extended since then, suspending passenger flights, the Mangaluru airport used to operate 30 flights daily, including 10 from overseas destinations like the UAE.
“Though regular domestic and overseas flights remain suspended due to the pandemic, we have been operating cargo and chartered flights even during the lockdown, including repatriation flights from the UAE by Air India Express to bring back stranded Indians and returnees under the Vande Bharat mission, launched by the central government,” Rao pointed out.
The Kozhikode air crash on Friday night, however, brought back memories of a similar crash at the Mangaluru airport over a decade ago, as both have table-top runway.
Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri told reporters at Kozhikode on Saturday that it was too early to compare the Friday air crash with that of the Mangaluru plane crash though both involved Air India Express Boeing 737 and were from Dubai and both overshot the table-top runway.
“Table top is everywhere. It is true that it poses a challenge to pilots. We have to wait for the investigation report on the crash. Though we learnt a lesson from the Mangaluru crash, it is too early to compare the latest crash with the mishap 10 years ago,” Puri told reporters after inspecting the crash site near the Kozhikode airport.
In the Mangaluru air crash of Boeing flight 812 from Dubai, of the 160 passengers and six crew members on board, 158 were killed (all crew members and 152 passengers) while only eight survived.
The Boeing which crashed at Kozhiode on Friday is 13 years old and was delivered to the Air India subsidiary in 2006.
According to the green NGO Environment Support Group (ESG) coordinator Leo Saldhana, the Mangaluru air crash was a fallout of criminal negligence of planning and regulatory authorities.
“It was no accident, but a direct result of failure of officials in the DGCA, AAI, the Union civil aviation ministry and the Karnataka government for allowing the parallel taxi tarmac to be built on a table-top runway,” said Saldhana.