Friday’s plane crash in Kerala’s Kozhikode that claimed 18 lives, has brought to the fore serious allegations against the airport authorities that they had ignored recommendations by aviation regulator DGCA for installing a safety system on the tabletop runway. In the latest incident, an Air India Express flight, carrying 190 people from Dubai as part of the Vande Bharat mission, had skidded while landing, overshot the runway, fell into a gorge and broken into two.
In 2011, after a similar crash at Mangaluru a year before, a member of Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA)’s Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council had written to the top bureaucrats that the runway at Kozhikode didn’t have adequate safety systems installed, reported Bloomberg. The investigation report of the 2010 mishap had even recommended a ground arrestor system for the tabletop airports to bring a skidding aircraft to halt.
Mohan Ranganathan, an aviation safety analyst, had written in the 2011 letter that landing at Kozhikode runway in tailwind condition while it’s raining endangers the lives of all passengers. He had said that wet conditions make the situation worse.
A skidding incident was reported in 2017 as well, but the Kozhikode airport authorities in 2018 rejected proposals for using Engineered Materials Arresting System (EMAS) technology, which can help stop an aircraft from overrunning the runway. According to The Hindu, JT Radhakrishna, Kozhikode airport director, had cited high operational and maintenance cost as reason for rejecting the proposal.
An Airports Authority of India representative, however, told Bloomberg that the Kozhikode airport is certified, has adequate safety area on both ends, and DGCA recommendations had been complied with following the 2010 Mangaluru incident.
Reports suggest that the DGCA had also issued a notice to the airport following an audit last year, expressing safety concerns. This included ‘excessive rubber deposit’ on the runway. Also, cracks and stagnating water were also found on the runway. Based on its findings, it had inferred that critical parts of the airport that are required to conduct safe operations were not being maintained as mandated.