Huge Risk of landing on Tabletop Runways

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TNI Bureau: The tragic plane crash involving the Air India Express flight IX 1344 in Kozhikode, which left 18 people, including two Pilots dead and over 100 injured, has raised several questions on the safety measures and risk factors at the Tabletop Runways.

A tabletop runway is located on the top of a plateau or hill with one or both ends adjacent to a steep precipice which drops into a deep gorge. Such runways creates an optical illusion for the Pilot. Only highly experienced Pilots can handle landings on Tabletop Runways, it’s believed.

The Calicut International Airport at Karipur in Malappuram, Mangalore International Airport in Mangalore & Lengpui Airport in Mizoram are the examples of Tabletop Runway.

Several international airlines had stopped flying bigger aircraft such as Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 Jets into Kozhikode over safety concerns. The Plane that crash-landed yesterday was a Boeing 737 Aircraft.

Unfortunately, both Kozhikode and Magalore Airprots have witnessed tragedies now. Way back on May 22, 2010, a Boeing 737 overshot the runway threshold touchdown area at Mangalore Airport and rolled down a steep hillside before catching fire. At least 158 people were killed (all crew members and 152 passengers), while only eight people survived the crash.

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The DGCA had banned wide-bodied aircraft from landing at Kozhikode airport after the Mangalore tragedy of 2010.

Yesterday’s crash occurred in hostile weather conditions. The runway was skiddy due to heavy rains over the last few days. An experienced Pilot like Captain Deepak Vasant Sathe (59) tried his best to save lives by turning off the engine right before the crash so that it did not catch fire upon crash landing.

The former Indian Air Force Pilot with 29 years of experience of flying was probably the best person to fly that ill-fated plane, as the casualties were minimized to 18 as compared to 158 in Mangalore Plane crash in 2010.

Aviation Experts have time and again given thumbs down to landing on Tabletop Runway whether Mangalore or Kozhikode. With 200-feet deep gorges on both sides of the tarmac, Kozhikode Airport remains riskier.

The Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council (CASAC) had also warned that Kozhikode runway was very risky for landing during rains and harsh weather conditions.

It’s high time the Government reviews all pros and cons and take effective measures to address the situation if it decides to continue operations at Tabletop Runways in future.

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