Monday, April 12, 2021

Avoiding tabletop Kozhikode runway with tyre trouble, AI Express pilots land plane safely in Kochi

New Delhi: Presence of mind displayed by the pilots operating an Air India Express flight from Riyadh to Kozhikode Saturday night ensured that all the 188 people onboard reached home safely. Just before IX-1322 got airborne, Captain Yazad Bachaa and first officer Nishad Arawandakar experienced a “small jolt, a wobble” that indicated a possible trouble with the landing gear or tyre/s.

Since all flight parameters were normal, they decided to continue flying home but made one crucial change — diverting to safer Kochi to avoid landing with landing gear trouble at the tabletop runway of Kozhikode which last August had witnessed the crash-landing of an AI Express flight in which 19 passengers and both the pilots lost their lives. IX-1322 landed safely in Kochi early Sunday morning.

The Boeing 737-800 (VT-AXI) took off late on Saturday night from Riyadh. Just before getting airborne, sources say, it experienced a “vibration that showed something out of the ordinary.” The pilots repeatedly checked all flight parameters that were absolutely normal. After reaching cruising altitude of 35,000 feet, they contacted the Riyadh air traffic control (ATC) and asked them to check if tyre pieces were found on the runway after this flight took off. Riyadh ATC shortly afterwards confirmed that there were tyre pieces on the runway but they could not confirm if they were from the AI Express Boeing 737.

Making best use of “crew resource management”, the pilot-in-commmand (PIC) called the co-pliot and captain who had operated this aircraft from India to Saudi and were returning home as passengers, to the cockpit. The four pilots brainstormed and worked out likely scenarios with the tyre trouble. Then the highly experienced Captain Bachaa decided to divert to Kochi because of its longer runway and clear weather, choosing it over the airline’s maintenance base Trivandrum.

Kochi airport made all arrangements for handling an emergency situation. The aircraft had an uneventful landing early on Sunday morning and exited the runway to come to a halt on a taxiway. AI Express engineering and fire tenders checked the landing gear. Once it was confirmed there is no fire, all the 180 passengers, six cabin crew and the two pilots deplaned using stepladder. The runway had tyre pieces strewn along it and the right side tyre (rubber part) of the main landing gear had completely disintegrated.

AI Express arranged another aircraft some hours later to fly the passengers to their destination, Kozhikode. “We are very proud of the way the pilots handled the situation,” said airline sources.

12/04/21 Times of India

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