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For pilots, flying in rain is always a risk

Heavy rains place an enormous load on the pilot's shoulders during take-offs and landings, reports Lalatendu Mishra.
Hindustan Times | By Lalatendu Mishra, Mumbai
UPDATED ON JUL 20, 2007 01:31 AM IST

What do you do if you are the pilot of a passenger jet that has to land in the middle of a monsoon downpour? "I pray to god and take the risk of landing on a very wet runway, even though visibility levels are within legally permissible limits," said one pilot requesting anonymity. "The risk is enormous," he added.

Heavy rains place an enormous load on the pilot's shoulders during take-offs and landings. Most of us find it difficult to handle a car on a wet road at 40-50 kmph; imagine steering an aircraft that lands at 260 kmph and takes off at 350 kmph. More than 35 per cent of accidents during landing happen during bad weather.

During rains, when visibility drops below the permissible limit, no pilot is allowed to land. Air traffic control (ATC) tells them when the water level on the runway falls below the 3 mm benchmark. But that's about all the information they get. "Contaminated" or "slippery" levels on the runway are rarely reported.

Senior airport officials dispute these claims. "We periodically check the runway and ensure friction coefficient (the traction which the aircraft's tyres get on the surface) is sufficient for proper landing and take-off. We take all precautions as per international standards and pilots have never raised any deficiency at the airport. It is not possible to check how slippery the runway is at every moment," said an Airports Authority of India official.

If there is water on the runway, the pilot takes the risk of landing by calculating the distance between the approached concrete and the tyre.

Even though modern aircraft are equipped with sophisticated navigational equipment, in the end, it all comes down to the pilot. In case of excess water, the wheel doesn't rotate properly, causing problems and even skidding.

It's not just the rain. Cloud formations have their own risks. The CB (cumulonimbus) cloud is dangerous as it has lightning, ice, hailstones and wind squalls. There are also violent updrafts and downdrafts with speeds of up to 640 feet per second.

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