On Tuesday, Nitin Pradhan spent a good 40 minutes in Mumbai airport’s terminal 1B and another 30 minutes inside his Delhi-bound flight.
Low visibility followed by a near-crash shut Mumbai’s main runway for nearly two hours, delaying Pradhan’s flight.
The Goregoan-based architect was amongst thousands of travellers flying in and out of the city and faced with marathon delays. “It is one of the worst travel experience in a long time,” said the 52-year-old.
First, the airport operator shut the shortened runway from 3 pm to 3.43 pm because heavy drizzle hampered visibility.
About 40 minutes after it opened, a Kingfisher flight from Bhavnagar skidded off the runway blocking operations for another 90 minutes.
As a result 12 city-bound flights were diverted to other nearby airports like Ahmedabad and Pune.
Airport officials said that none of the flights were cancelled but most departures were running an hour behind schedule.
“The total number of arrivals and departures are not clear,” said a Mumbai International Airport Limited spokesperson.
Last Tuesday, the airport handled 82 take-offs and landings. The entire runway was finally opened for operation at around 6.30 pm but the afternoon disruption had a cascading effect on the evening flights, especially during the peak hours between 6 pm and 10 pm.
“I landed an hour behind the scheduled arrival,” said Tullika Basu (28), a management trainee. “I spent another half an hour taxiing from the tarmac to the terminal.”
The airport has two runways. While the secondary runway is shut for repairs till January 2010, the main runway is partially shut every Tuesday (for the next 19 weeks) for repairs.
Issues regarding safety of passengers in flights taking off and landing on the airport’s shortened runway have been raised by air safety experts. Experts had warned that pilots need training to land on a shortened runway.
“One has to adjust the speed and point of descent for a safe landing on a shortened runway,” said air safety expert Captain Mohan Ranganathan, adding that the switch is difficult without training and practice.
Another air safety expert from a private airline said that a short runway landing requires hard braking. “This increases
the amount of rubber deposits on the runway,” he said. These deposits reduce friction, which may cause planes to skid.