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‘Don’t Know Much But Touchdown Was Late’: DGCA Chief Says AI Plane Pilots Knew About Bad Weather

Due to the efforts of the CISF, AAI fire service teams, the district administration, the local police and the NDRF, the passengers were evacuated and shifted to different hospitals. (Image: ANI)

Due to the efforts of the CISF, AAI fire service teams, the district administration, the local police and the NDRF, the passengers were evacuated and shifted to different hospitals. (Image: ANI)

Arun Kumar said investigation is still being conducted into the crash, in which 18 people died including both pilots and more than 150 were injured on Friday night.

Three days after Air India Express plane crash in Kerala, Arun Kumar, director general for civil aviation, said a late touchdown may have caused the plane to overshoot the runway.

In an interview to Hindustan Times, Kumar said investigation is still being conducted into the crash, in which 18 people died including both pilots and more than 150 were injured on Friday night.

“We don’t know much, the actual investigation is on. They (investigators) have got the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder so they have to open them and they have to study the transcripts and also the Air Traffic Controller (ATC) transcripts which they have obtained. All we know at this point of time is that the touchdown was late. That is the ATC information, more than 3,000 feet,” he was quoted as saying by HT.

Kumar said the runway is 9,000 feet, a fairly long length for a plane of that magnitude to land. “This runway was fit enough for bigger aircraft, so a smaller type of aircraft cannot complain of the length of the runway. So if you touch down late on any runway, suppose it’s a 12,000 feet runway, and you touchdown at 8,000 feet, then you can have problems,” he said.

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However, sources told News18 that runway friction testing was not done at the Karipur airport on the day of the crash. Although a friction testing vehicle was brought from Chennai, it could not be used before the accident.

A friction testing vehicle measures friction on airports runways, taxiways and highways. The system runs through a measuring wheel, which is mechanically geared to one of the rear main wheels of a base car.

Such a device is considered critical, especially at table top airport runways like the one in Calicut and Mangalore.

Kumar had told CNN-News18 on Saturday that it is incorrect to say friction testing was not done. "The Calicut Airport is the 11th busiest airport in the pilot. It is incorrect that friction testing was not done," he said. "There was poor judgement of pilots while landing, the runway was long enough for safe landing."

He also said that the pilots of the aircraft were alerted about the bad weather in the area. They were also told about the tailwinds, which, however, were "within permissible limits”.

"The ATC had briefed the pilots about the weather condition... the call has to be taken by the commander to go around or to land," Kumar told NDTv.

The Boeing-737 plane, which was bringing back Indian citizens from Dubai as part of the Vande Bharat mission, skidded off the runway of Calicut, crashing nose-first into the ground. Table top runways are located at an altitude and have steep drops at one or both ends.

Air traffic control sources said it was the pilot's call on whether to land under such conditions while adding that the landing on Friday was beyond the touchdown point.

The Air India Express flight from Dubai with 190 on board had overshot the runway while landing in heavy rains and fell into a valley 35 feet below and broke into two pieces.

Twenty three people have also been seriously injured in the accident. This was India's worst passenger aircraft accident since 2010.

The black box and cockpit voice recorder have been recovered from the site of an Air India Express passenger aircraft crash in Kerala, a top official at the Directorate General of Civil Aviation said.

first published:August 10, 2020, 09:21 IST