NEW DELHI: Aviation experts have hit out at airport safety authorities for the Kozhikode Air India Express crash killing at least 18 people, including the pilot and co-pilot, saying several warnings in the past have been ignored and that many airports are prone to accidents because of lack of safety compliance.
Safety expert Mohan Rangnathan says he had warned the authorities in 2011 that Runway 10 of Kozhikode airport is unsafe for landing, especially in tailwind conditions in rain. His grim warning was contained in his communication to the chairman of Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council (CASAC) and other authorities.
Rangnathan said there are many other risk-prone airports, including at Patna and Jammu. Many airports are safe only on paper because the audits are not done as per the exact requirements, he said. "Audits are mostly done on paper. And, even if these reports flag a safety issue, the DGCA issues a show-cause, but that’s all about it. No action is taken for non-compliance," he said.
"The DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) has to make airport authorities accountable. In this case, they should shut down the airport or suspend operations briefly," said Rangnathan. The DGCA had reportedly issued a notice to the Kozhikode airport after an audit revealed safety concerns over "excessive rubber deposits" on the runway, an occurrence that poses even higher risks in case of rains.
Charan Dass, former joint DG at the DGCA, says airports need to follow the International Civil Aviation Organization standards. "Otherwise no country will allow its flights to your airports, he said. He added that there are standard procedures mentioned in the flight manual. “The Flight Data Recorder (FDR) will help us know where the lapse was in the Kozhikode crash. What we know now is that the impact of the aircraft crash was enormous as it broke into two.
Tabletop runways such as the one at Kozhikode are constructed on a hilly or an elevated terrain and are built in a way that there is a trench or valley at the front and back of the length of the runway. An accurate landing is very important. The tabletops are very tricky and known to be extremely challenging even for the best of pilots. Dass pointed out that landing on tabletop runways requires a precision approach with no room for errors.
Aviation safety activist Yeshwanth Shenoy blamed DGCA and other authorities. "They have not learned any lessons from the 2010 Mangalore accident. The system is full of incompetent and unprofessional people," he said.
The aviation monitoring body CAPA India has said that the DGCA and the Aircraft Accident Investigation Board must conduct thorough probes into the Kozhikode tragedy, and follow through on actions to achieve a systemic overhaul of aviation safety in India.
According to international standards, the length of the runway should be 9,000 feet. But in India there are many runways which are shorter, experts said. The runaways at the airports in Patna, Shimla, Mangalore, Calicut, Aizwal, Kullu, Agartala are among those having much shorter than the prescribed length, aviation experts pointed out.