Monday, August 10, 2020

View: Accountability and transparency need of the hour to avert another plane crash

An air crash is not the result of a single event in isolation; it is a chain of events that lead to a disaster. This was seen during the two previous crashes in India – the 2010 air crash at Mangalore and the 2000 tragedy at Patna.

As the focus shifts back to flight safety and airports in India with the recent crash of the Air India Express IX1344 at Kozhikode, it is important that we learn and act on past mistakes.

The crash of Alliance Air B737-200 at Patna raised questions about the airport. The relatively shorter runway at the airport along with high temperatures in summer months make the airport risky. The most popular solution of runway extension is not feasible at Patna since it has a protected biological park at one end, and a major railway line at another!

While most airports in the country have some or the other obstructions such as concrete structures on the approach path, in Patna there were trees that could grow to obstruct a landing and it required complex permissions to prune them.
bout eight years ago, the regulator had come up with a proposal to allow only turboprop flights in Patna, as a measure of flight safety. This idea did not move beyond the proposal stage and today Patna is one of the top airports in the country in terms of passenger traffic.

Air Force Station Bihta – 30 kilometers from existing Patna airport -  will have a new civil enclave that will serve as a second airport for Patna. While this has been in the pipeline for last four years, it is far from reality as of today. Also, a second airport may take care of the traffic congestion at the older airport, but not the safety aspect.

In 2010, IX-812 crashed in Mangalore. The table-top runway at Mangalore came in focus and so did many others. A recommendation to increase the runway length remains unheeded, without much being done since then.
While Patna, Mangalore and Calicut are civil airports, things could be complex for air fields controlled by the armed forces. Airports like Pune, Goa, Jamnagar or Gwalior were primarily designed keeping in mind the needs of operating fighter jets. Thus, these airports have obstructions like a safety end, at the ends of their runways. For years, there has been demand to have another airport at Pune, Goa, Vizag or Patna but little has moved as the country battles challenges related to land acquisition and resettlement.
10/08/20 Ameya Joshi/
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