DGCA to examine Tabletop airports to boost aviation safety

The DGCA is anticipated to evaluate Tabletop airports in India, to improve aviation safety at the airports, according to two officials who spoke to Mint.

As the name implies, a Tabletop airport is one that is situated on top of a plateau or steep terrain with one or both runways ends looking down over a drop.

Lengpui (Mizoram), Shimla and Kullu (Himachal Pradesh), Pakyong (Sikkim), Mangaluru (Karnataka), Kozhikode (Kerala) and Kannur (Kerala) are the airports in the nation that would be considered “Tabletops”.

Tabletop Kozhikode Airport
Kozhikode Airport is one of the airports in India regarded as “Tabletops”

A former aviation official claims that there is no mention of a “tabletop airport” in any International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) technical documents. However, the DGCA uses this terminology to emphasise safety precautions when using these runways.

The stages of landing and takeoff are the most important aspects of any aircraft operation.

On runways with little capacity for manoeuvring, such as Tabletop runways, the pressure is substantially greater for the pilots. Therefore, a precise landing is crucial. Even the finest pilots find it difficult to navigate tabletops because they are so difficult. In these circumstances, even a small error can result in deadly collisions.

“If visibility is poor and there are tailwinds, landing on a Tabletop airport becomes a challenge. Automation might not help in the case of tabletop runways. An optical illusion can also be the issue where the runway might seem to be nearer whereas it would be further away.”

–A pilot for National Carrier Air India Ltd. said.

Following the crash of a Boeing 737-800 Air India Express aircraft on August 7, 2020, which resulted in the deaths of 21 passengers and crew members, including both pilots, a panel was initially established in 2020 to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau at Kozhikode airport. The discussions were chaired by a high-level panel that included the Civil Aviation Secretary. 

Also read: The final report out on the Kozhikode air crash hints at human error and non-compliance to SOPs

On board, there was no fire. Both the cockpit voice recorder and the digital flight data recorder have been located. The incident has once more brought attention to the functioning of what is known as “Tabletop airports” in India. 

Also read: AAI recommends runway extension for Kozhikode airport

DGCA airport accident investigation
On August 7, 2020, a Boeing 737-800 Air India Express plane crashed in Kozhikode Airport, killing all 21 people on board as well as the two pilots

Also read: Protest against India’s Kozhikode Airport’s Runway Extension

In 2010, there was a very similar catastrophe at the Tabletop airport in Mangalore, which resulted in almost 160 fatalities.

“There has been a discussion around the review of tabletop airports or the airports with challenging terrain. These can be airports where the runway is elevated as compared to the surrounding geography. The motive is to increase prevention against any unforeseen incidents at such airports and check for areas where we can identify what more can be done to make landings and take-offs at such runways less challenging.”

–A senior DGCA official reports Mint.

In 2010, at the Tabletop airport in Mangalore, there was a disaster remarkably similar to the Kozhikode Airport happened, leading to over 160 fatalities

Plans are in motion to categorise all airports due to operational challenges, and the DGCA is anticipated to evaluate Tabletop airports in India in an effort to improve aviation safety at the nation’s airports. The evaluation, according to the DGCA, aims to boost safety at airports with difficult terrain.

(With inputs from Livemint)