The Union civil aviation minister is correct when he said there should be no speculation over what caused Friday night’s deadly air accident in Kozhikode, the worst in the last 10 years. There should also be no blame game before a thorough investigation conclusively proves what led to the crash. The Kozhikode airport is not the only one with a tabletop runway in India or abroad.
There are at least five other airports in India with similar runways. The US and the Netherlands too have such airports. Further, commercial flights have routinely landed safely in worse weather conditions than was prevalent in Kozhikode on the fateful night.
Having said that, it would not be improper to raise certain air safety issues regarding airports in India, which several experts claim they have flagged with the concerned authorities. Some of the experts have pointed out that the Kozhikode airport has excessive rubber coating on the landing surface, making it risky. They claimed this had been pointed out to the authorities but little corrective measures were taken.
The question that arises then is, why didn’t the aviation authorities act? The drawback with tabletop airports in general is that if there is strong tailwind during inclement weather, there is a possibility of the aircraft touching down beyond the safe limit. If initial reports are to be believed, the ill-fated flight landed halfway down the runway because of which it overshot it and fell 35 feet downhill.
Again the question that arises is: Would it not have been wiser to divert the flight to some other airport as it had, according to reports, enough fuel? Most experts are unanimous that several airports across the country have safety issues. While some have shorter runways than internationally prescribed, others suffer from poor maintenance. Others like the Chennai airport have security gaps, as pointed out by the International Civil Aviation Organisation about two years ago. What is worse is that though these shortcomings have been pointed out, the authorities seem to have only brushed them under the carpet. It is time air safety issues are not treated so cavalierly.