Air safety experts fear that the next 20 Tuesdays will pose a big challenge for flights taking off and landing on the shortened runway at Mumbai airport unless pilots are trained for it.
Since the half of the runway shut for repairs two weeks ago, there have been two incidents, including a near crash. The airport plans to shut the main runway every Tuesday for six hours for repairs.
On the first Tuesday, a Bangalore-based Jetlite flight offloaded passengers’ baggage at the last moment to enable a safe take-off on the shortened runway.
This week, more than 150 passengers on a GoAir flight just escaped crashing into the runway’s construction site twice. “You have 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.
While the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA) has warned airlines against dumping passenger’s baggage at the last moment, it still maintains that pilots are equipped to use a shorter runway.
“Passengers whose baggage is offloaded by airlines should report the matter so that we can take action,” said Nasim Zaidi, director general, DGCA. But he said, “We cannot conclude that the GoAir case indicates a safety challenge unless the probe is over.”
Another air safety expert from a private airline requesting anonymity said short runway landings require ‘hard braking’.
“This increases the amount of rubber deposits on the runway,” he said.
The regulator is, however, is satisfied with the safety measures on the basis of two kinds of test landings it conducted last Tuesday.
One of them was the visual-approached landing, where the pilot follows lights on the sides of the runway and another one where an instrument guides the aviator.
Airlines also declined to comment on challenges of landing on a shortened runway without prior training because the regulator has approved the plan.
It is also pertinent that October to March is the best time to strengthen the runway, which handles about 650 departures and arrivals daily.
“Runway repairs cannot be done during the monsoon and the traffic peaks during summer,” said an airport official.
The treatment is critical since the patch where the main runway intersects with the secondary runway has disintegrated. Last year, a Jet Airways flight deferred take-off by an hour after pilot saw the runway surfaced had come off. Subsequently, the airport operator shut operations leading to four diversions.