'AIE aircraft landed at Calicut airport that had no runway end safety area'

P Manoj Mumbai | Updated on August 08, 2020 Published on August 08, 2020

When Captain Deepak Sathe reportedly landed the Air India Express Boeing 737 aircraft about 1,000 metres farther from the original touchdown point on Runway 10 of Calicut International Airport on Friday evening, he was left with about 1,700 metres for the landing run.

But, due to heavy winds, rain and less braking action on a wet runway, understandably, the plane overshot the runway.

“Then came the other tragedy,” said an aviation expert. “The aircraft had landed on the runway that did not have the runway end safety area (RESA).”

From the end of the runway, 90 metres are given for RESA, allowing an aircraft to come to a halt even if it overshoots the runway, according to rules laid down by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) which, in turn, follow the rules and regulations framed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a UN Body.

“In Calicut airport, a point that puts me in trepidation is that, only one runway is given the RESA due to land limitations,” the expert with over 30 years in the aviation industry, including investigating a few plane crashes, said the expert, asking not to be named.

“For some peculiar reason yesterday (Friday), the aircraft did not land at the runway that had RESA. That may be because the pilot might have taken a risk based on wind and other conditions, that is a matter of investigation,” he continued.

The touchdown point on the runway is clearly marked and is known to the instrument landing systems on the aircraft. But, the pilot, may be because of the wind, cross wind, tail wind and rain, was unable to land the plane at the touchdown point and went even farther and landed at a mid-point of the 2,700 metre-runway.

“The 2,700-metre runway is a very adequate runway to safely land an aircraft. Even, a Boeing 747 aircraft require only three-fourth of that runway for the landing run. This was a Boeing 737, a smaller plane. So, it is out of question. It will not use the entire runway at all provided the pilot missed the landing at the appropriate touchdown point. That probably didn’t happen yesterday,” he reckoned.

“Naturally, when you come to the mid-point of the runway, you have already used 1,000 metres of the 2,700 metres. That left the pilot with only 1,700 metres for the landing run,” he said.

Why didn’t the aircraft land on the runway that had RESA?

There is an essential technical aspect involved in this. “All take-off and landing of aircraft must be into the wind. If the plane tries to land along with the wind, it will deviate from the runway because of added speed and the plane will lose control,” he explained.

If reports are true, the wind speed of 15 knots at the time, must have been favourable for the runway where the plane landed.

“In other words, as per wind conditions at Calicut airport, the aircraft could land only on that runway. But, nobody would have imagined in their dreams that even without RESA, a smaller aircraft will overshoot the runway. Perhaps, that is what happened. In fact, in the first place, the pilot shouldn’t have made the landing, that is what I feel, because of the met conditions,” he observed.

Wind speed of 15 knots, according to the expert, is not a threatening condition. “15 knots wind is not a big problem for visual landing. Safe landing can be a problem if the wind speed is above 30 knots, in which case the plane will be asked by the Air Traffic Control (ATC) to divert,” he said.

So, at 15 knots wind, the ATC selected a favourable runway for landing. Then, it is up to the pilot to take precautions - based on the met conditions – such as on breaking action and to touch down after getting clear visual reference. Even after the plane touched down 1,000 metres farther from the stipulated touchdown point, the pilot could have abandoned the landing and taken the aircraft airborne again. In a split second, the pilot can do that, he explained.

“Modern aircraft are capable of that. If there is a landing problem, the pilot can give acceleration and take the plane airborne in seconds, do one more round and try to land again. It does not happen regularly, but in extreme cases it can happen. This is a high-tech era. Inch by inch of the runway touchdown point is clearly visible on the cockpit panel. It’s a tragedy,” he added.

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Published on August 08, 2020
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