The Jet Airways plane descended, cutting through driving rain. The runway looked like a blur. The plane touched down with a mild thud but showed no sign of slowing down. It skidded off the runway, injuring five of its 49 passengers.
Seventeen days later, a plane landed in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and skidded, skipped over a busy road and crashed into a warehouse. Everyone on board died, and so did many of those caught unawares in the warehouse.
Experts said it was a tragedy waiting to happen. There were problems with the runway. But if you thought Brazil was quite another matter, look at this: 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.
Any of these could have turned into tragedy. Most Indian runways become tricky after rains. Captain A Ranganathan, a former pilot and instructor, said most airports were designed to remain operational under 3 mm of rain. "It is a benchmark set donkey's years ago," he said. "It needs to be updated."
There are other reasons why runways are trickier than they may appear to an untrained eye. Ranganathan said compared to a dry runway, the landing distance on a wet runway increased by 30 per cent — something not taken into account by safety agencies. 'Grooving' the runway — necessary for increasing surface friction — is hardly done in India. Asked about the lack of grooved runways, K Ramalingam, chairman of the Airports Authority of India, refused to comment.
A spokesman of the Delhi International Airport (P) Ltd said the runways at the Indira Gandhi International Airport were regularly checked with state-of-the-art machines so that planes got sufficient grip after landing. Director General of Civil Aviation Kanu Gohain said there was very little chance of a Brazil-like accident happening in India because at no airport are buildings located so close to the runway.
But you never can tell. Brazil is a warning.