Air India Express accident at Calicut was facilitated by the regulator, how?

  Air India Airbus Landing at Port Blair (Source Dr Puneet) Blaming the pilots alone for an accident is like addressing the symptom rather than the root cause. The root cause of the Calicut accident of IX1344 on 7th Aug 2020 is the poor safety culture prevalent in India and the ineffective regulatory oversight. This landing(YouTube video) can be categorized as a deliberate attempt to endanger the lives of passengers and crew. This is not the Calicut landing but a landing at another critical airport where most of the year the airport experiences tailwinds. Since the airport has a unidirectional runway ( landing from one direction only), the flight crew has no option but to land in tailwinds. The situation worsens during the monsoons when there is a tailwind and the runway is wet and braking action reduces. Action has not been taken either by the regulator or by the airline safety. Why? What is the role of the regulator? The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is the regulatory

Strong winds & poor visibility can shut down Calicut airport operations

The airport at Calicut has witnessed 1 accident & 2 serious incidents in the past 3 years where the aircraft have departed the runway surface. The runway is constructed on a tabletop, has hills in close proximity, and experiences heavy rainfall. This makes it a challenging runway to operate to and from. One would expect, additional safety buffers in terms of facilities and infrastructure. Unfortunately, commercial gains have taken priority over safety issues.

If we analyze the runway strip at this airport, one will get an idea of where the safety is headed. Denial is the first step post an accident and the same is the case here. However, the authorities are aware of the safety concerns but have not acted to build safety barriers is a matter of grave concern.

Runway strip as defined in the DGCA, India Civil Aviation Requirement, is a defined area including the runway and stopway, if provided, intended: a) to reduce the risk of damage to aircraft running off a runway; and b) to protect aircraft flying over it during take-off or landing operations. 

In my earlier blogs, I have highlighted the need for providing the runway strip for the safety of aircraft involved in a runway excursion, be it from the side of a runway or the beginning/end. The figure below gives the regulatory requirement that the Calicut airport must comply with in order to meet safety requirements.

DGCA regulatory requirement

Interestingly, in the reply to SafetyMaters RTI, the authorities have stated that the runway meets with the DGCA regulations. They have also issued a letter (not a NOTAM/AIP) to a select few airlines of the conditions under which the airport would be shut down for flight operations since the regulatory requirement for the runway strip is not met at the airport. 

There ought to be a notification in the form of a Notice to Airman or an Aeronautical Information Publication that informs all users who may elect to use the airport under normal operation or arising out of an emergency.

Airport letter stating non-compliance with regulations

Reply to the RTI

The letter mentions that the regulatory requirement is not met due to terrain and land constraints. However, the fact is that the construction of the runway strip of 300m was always practicable and not a constraint. The construction tenders have been floated by the airport authorities but after a delay of a few years and a tragic accident.

Legal definition: Practicable means reasonably practicable having regard among other things to local conditions and circumstances, to the current state of technical knowledge, and to the financial implications.

If the airport earns good revenues from the passenger and cargo movement in high number, what is the harm in investing some amount towards safety? The NGO dedicated to building a generative safety culture. #becausesafetymatters 


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