The last week Air India’ crash incident which took the lives of 20 passengers including two crew members, has been devastating news for all of us but more than that it has again turned the spotlight on the plane crashes accidents especially about the safety of tabletop airports. On 7 August, an Air India Express (a subsidiary of Air India) flight Boeing 737 flight which was flying from Dubai to Kozhikode on a special “Vande Bharat” mission of repatriating the people from Dubai to India overshot the runway. There were 174 passengers in the flight including 2 pilots, 4 cabin crew, and 10 infants.
WHAT ARE TABLETOP AIRPORTS
As the name suggests, these are the airports that are built and located on the top of a plateau or a hilly surface. According to a retired aviation official, there is no such term as a tabletop airport in any of the technical document of International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), but as per the Directorate General of Civil Aviation( DGCO), which is a statutory aviation body of India, these airports are being referred by the officials for highlighting the safety measures during operations to these runaways. In India, there are 7 tabletop airports, namely, Lengpui (Mizoram), Shimla and Kullu (Himachal Pradesh), Pakyong (Sikkim), Mangaluru (Karnataka), Kozhikode and Kannur (both Kerala).
On May 22, 2010, an Air India Express flight which was also coming from Dubai to Mangaluru, overran the runway while landing. In this accident out of 160 passengers and 6 crew members, 158 people lost their lives. This accident led to the attention of such airports especially having shorter runaways. The runaways are the area or the land where flights are landed.
RECOMMENDATIONS MADE AFTER MANGALURU CRASH
After the crash, the court of Air Marshal B.N. Gokhale, former Vice-Chief of Air Staff, Indian Air Force (and its team of aviation expert assessors) came with a series of recommendations in October 2010. In these recommendations, issues like “avoidance of the downward slope in the overshoot area especially on tabletop runaways, the need for a ground arresting system for aircraft — such a facility is maintained at almost all airfields of the Indian Air Force’; a visual reference system to alert the pilot (while landing) of the remaining distance to be covered; the role of Rescue and Fire Fighting services were highlighted. But these recommendations were not fully implemented. An ICAO document of 1981 for airports serves as a guidelines to tackle such cases.
According to the aviation safety expert Caption Mohan Ranganathan, we need to move away from the culture where after every such incident Officials says that we are required to conform to the standards of ICAO. Such standards applied in runaway conditions must be enforced strictly. Moreover, we need to become more transparent and safety-oriented instead of looking at commercial interests.