It's a miracle planes land safely in India

20 Jul 2007, 0245 hrs IST,Manju V,TNN
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MUMBAI: The monsoon this year has caused casualties of a new kind. There have been nine aviation accidents or incidents at various Indian airports in the last three months - most of them caused by that fatal combination of heavy rain and short runways.
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Patna: 6,411 feet runway. Trees on property belonging to Lalu Prasad’s in-laws appear on the safety funnel of Instrument Landing System during approach

  It was these two factors that caused the Tam Airbus to crash in Sao Paulo on Wednesday, killing 200 people.

Even veteran pilots are known to get the monsoon jitters - flying through heavy rain, cross winds, and an opaque cloud cover is hard enough, but landing in these hostile conditions on a stingy runway that stops short of 9,000 feet is nerve-wracking.

With an additional 12,000 flights this year compared with 2006, the rise in the number of skids and incidents is not surprising. The Sao Paulo tragedy has raised the question: how safe are Indian runways?

The consensus in the aviation industry is that the two most unsafe airports in the country are those at Pune and Patna. However, it's not as if the rest are up to standard.

The fact is that most of India's 200-plus airports have landing strips that fall short of the 9000-foot safety benchmark. During the dry months, this does not really make a difference - after all, thousands of flights arrive safely every day - but come the thundershowers and suddenly the lack of inches is acutely felt.

With so negligible a margin for error, an aircraft can easily overshoot the slippery strip of tarmac. Even the country's so-called long runways aren't up to scratch. Says an A320 check pilot, "In the Emirates Operations Manual, the example of a bad runway is Mumbai airport runway 27."

Singapore Airlines too does not land on Mumbai airport's runway 14 as it has been classified 'sub-standard' because of the air-traffic control tower standing a few metres away. "Runway 14 may be 9,596 feet but it has a displaced threshold, which means only 7,200 feet are available for landing. To make things worse, the end of the runway is waterlogged and slippery," says a senior Boeing 747 commander.

While the Airports Authority of India operates 124 runways, state governments own 158 and private parties 63.

from this link
'Our flights are like killer Bluelines' Tuesday's plane crash in Brazil in which at least 186 people were killed has brought flight safety back into focus. And the occurrence of half a dozen incidents at different airports in the last two months has confirmed fears that Indian skies are fast becoming unsafe.

The airlines insist they take enough safeguards to operate flights as per norms set by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and that the fears are unfounded. But experienced pilots and aviation experts say the mindless growth of aviation — with no proper infrastructure and no enforcement of laws — has grossly compromised air safety norms.
Brazil runway disaster could've happened here
A study says there were nine incidents of passenger planes skidding off runways in India — wet in each case — after landing between May 1 and July 1, report Sidhartha Roy and Soubhik Mitra.

 

 "The current state of Indian aviation is just like Delhi's Blueline bus service. You allowed them to operate without enforcement by the police and they killed people on the road. You stopped them, you earned the wrath of passengers," said a senior commander on condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to speak to the press.

He said the current situation was a direct outcome of the government allowing the arbitrary import of aircraft without strengthening law enforcement agencies. "DGCA's Flight Inspection Department (FID) is as good as defunct. Once 12 senior personnel worked here to certify aircraft, pilots and conduct surprise checks. Once they left, only one person ran this department for nearly two years. It is just impossible for one flight inspector to certify and monitor over 300 aircraft," the commander said, adding that the airline lobby had bypassed several safety norms in getting their planes certified airworthy.

"It's a miracle we don't have mid-air crashes. The deregulation has caused heavy congestion in the air and Air Traffic Control (ATC) is unable to handle the pressure. Then you have the language problem of expat pilots. The shortage of pilots has prompted airlines to hire anybody. And with nobody to conduct flight safety audits, you are bound to have accidents," he added.

"The pressure is so much at the ATC tower that sometimes, it is difficult to repeat the message. Even if 15 aircraft land at an airport in an hour, ATCs communicate at least four times with each of them before they finally land," said an air traffic controller.

Within the country too, the pressure to push out pilots has led to short cuts. Pilot trainers admit that established norms are being violated to keep pace with demand. "Now a 19-year-old goes directly into a Boeing or Airbus cockpit after completing 200 hours of flying training and 45 days of a jet endorsement training programme," said Yashraj Tongia, chief flight instructor, Yash Air Flying Institute.

Almost everybody HT spoke to opined that the DGCA needed to be strengthened, both with more legislative powers, and manpower to enforce flight safety norms, including routine and surprise aircraft checks. from link