Over 20 months after the Air India Express Calicut accident which killed 21 people, the role played by the infrastructural inadequacies of the table-top Kozhikode airport runway is in focus.
A government committee, in a report, made public on Wednesday, May 25, recommended that the Airports Authority of India (AAI) acquire land in 11 months for Kozhikode runway extension to provide what’s called a Runway End Safety Area or RESA.
It is an area laid out beyond the runway end to arrest and decelerate overshooting or undershooting aircraft.
The Kozhikode airport hilltop runway had a RESA even in August 2020 when the Air India Express accident occurred. But it is entirely paved, with no soft portions. Back then and currently as well, the land-starved Kozhikode airport’s hard surface RESA is used by aircraft to taxi.
“The committee was unanimous in its opinion that safety is paramount and RESA, as mandated in the extant rules and regulations, has to be provided to enhance the safety of operations at Kozhikode airport,” the report said.
It recommended the existing 90m-long RESA be filled with 15cm sand or soft soil for effective deceleration of aircraft that go off the runway. The state government may be requested to provide sufficient suitable filled up levelled land for runway expansion, it said, setting a March 2023 deadline.
If the land was not available by then, the runway length should be reduced to 2,540m to provide RESA of 240m from the ends of the runway strip, the report said.
On August 7, 2020, an Air India Express Boeing 737-800 aircraft operating a flight from Dubai with 184 passengers on board overshot the hill-top Kozhikode runway after a delayed touch down.
The aircraft sped past the paved RESA surface to drop 110 feet down a gorge, separate into three sections and kill 21 people, including both pilots.
The committee comprising aviation experts was formed in September 2021 to oversee the implementation of the recommendations made in the Kozhikode accident investigation report. The final report released a month earlier in August 2021, made 43 safety recommendations.
“Out of the 41 recommendations accepted by the committee, 24 recommendations (19 critical and 5 non-critical) were implemented by the respective stakeholders as per action plan,” the report said.
The report allowed the airport to continue to handle up to ‘Code C’ aircraft (such as Boeing 737, and A320), but with suggested mitigating measures in place.
It recommended a training program for the Kozhikode aircraft rescue and fire fighting crew; they were not familiar with the Boeing 737, which resulted in poorly coordinated rescue operations and delayed evacuation of the pilots from the cockpit.
“The Kozhikode airport perimeter road which surrounds the airport should be capable of supporting heavy fire fighting vehicles…In Nov 2019, DGCA during their surveillance had made similar observations, however, the observed deficiencies still existed as on the date of the accident,” it said.
AAI has agreed to install runway centerline lights at Kozhikode and Mangalore during the next recarpeting of the runway which is due in 2022 and 2024 respectively, the report said. Despite recommendations made in two incident reports earlier, AAI hadn’t done this.
(With Inputs from The Times of India)