Tabletop runways have once again come into sharp focus after the Kozhikode Airport crash recently. Though officials say the state’s only airport is safe, concerns rage among Mizos
The tragic air crash at the tabletop runway at Kerala’s Kozhikode airport that left 18 ‑ including both the pilots ‑ dead, has triggered questions on the safety of such runways in India.
Lengpui Airport in Mizoram which is among the five airports in the country having table-top runways, is one of the very critical airports in India owing to its geographical location.
Air travel being the only ‘fast’ option for Mizos to visit other parts of the country, the importance of this airport to the citizens of Mizoram is immense.
However, the August 7 crash of the Air India flight has put the Airports Authority of India (AAI) on an alert so far as Lengpui airport is concerned.
Tabletop runways are constructed on hilly or elevated terrains. Also, there could be low lying areas adjacent to such runways and there could be gorges at the end of such runways.
Normally, Lengpui handles four flights every day, besides a need-based small aircraft operated by a regional service provider and is safe for landing of passenger aircrafts like Airbus A320 and mid-size cargo planes, an AAI official told EastIndiaStory.Com here.
However, there is more to his claim than meets the eye. And these facts remain unspoken.
At least 35 flights in and out of this table-top runway were cancelled in May, June and July this year. Besides, many flights to and from Kolkata and Guwahati were delayed for a total of more than 150 hours.
Have the safety concerns been playing havoc in Lengpui, leaving the Mizoram air travellers grounded?
Frequent cancellation of flights has been blamed less on inclement weather than on the absence of instrument landing system (ILS), critical for any modern airport.
Ironically, the ILS installed a couple of years ago is yet to receive the nod of commissioning from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on the plea that Lengpui has failed to meet some civil aviation technical rules.
And in the absence of this facility, air travellers have been forced to take an uncertain and circuitous road trip along the National Highway 54 that connects Guwahati through southern Assam and Meghalaya.
And of course, this highway is prone to landslides during the monsoon months.
“The ILS will facilitate landing of A320s even when the visibility is 1,500 metres. Consequently, no flight will be cancelled,” an official said on condition of anonymity. “The visibility at Lengpui never goes down below 2,500 metres, however bad the weather is.”
As of now, an Airbus can land with visibility of 5,000 metres while the smaller ATR-42 needs 3,500 metres.
To ensure smooth landing and take offs even in bad weather, the AAI spent Rs 1.68 crore towards installation of the ILS.
Interestingly, in order to meet the technical specifications of the DGCA, the top of the hills around the airport may have to be shaved off, which environmentalists and airport officials claim is next to impossible.
A complete renovation of the airport’s runway has been done a few weeks ago at a cost of Rs. 14.9 crore.
According to J. Lalhmingliana, Principal Consultant in the Civil Aviation wing of the General Administration department, the runway having 2,500 metres of length and a breadth of 45 metres, has enough space and fulfils all parameters for safe landing.
Besides ILS, Lengpui is equipped with runway lights and Doppler Very High Frequency Omni Range (DVOR), among others.
Apart from passenger aircraft like Airbus A320 carrying around 200 passengers, this two-decade-old airport is perfectly fit for landing of cargo planes and transport aircraft like C-17 Globemaster, Il-76 and Super Hercules, among others.
“Unless there is a human error, plane crash and other accidents are unlikely to happen,” he claimed.
Four airports having tabletop runways at Kozhikode, Mangalore (Karnakata), Shimla (Himachal Pradesh) and Pakyong (Sikkim) are operated by the Airports Authority of India (AAI), while the Lengpui airport is being run by the state government.
Two airlines- Air India and IndiGo – currently operate on Kolkata-Aizawl-Imphal route on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, while Kolkata-Guwahati-Aizawl sector operates on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays.
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The author has served no less than Al Jazeera and German TV, and India’s Parliamentarian magazine among others! To his credit goes a deep-rooted empathy for social issues and humans. He has wide experience in covering the northeast of India. His coverage on the 2020 Amphan cyclone in eastern India has easily been the best around the world