x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Air crash runway will not be extended

The runway that the ill-fated Air India Express flight overshot will not be extended, officials say.

NEW DELHI // The Mangalore airport's runway, which came under scrutiny after Air India Express Flight 812 plunged off it into a ravine, will not be extended.

A week after the crash, Praful Patel, then the aviation minister, said it would be extended by an additional 1,000 metres to a total length of 9,000 feet (2,743 metres). He also said that the extension would afford the Mangalore airport the status of an international airport.

At the time, he said the government would keep "an open mind" about any other safety changes needed for aircraft to land at the facility, which is on top of a hill.

But MR Vasudeva, the director of the Mangalore airport, said yesterday the current infrastructure was satisfactory.

"If bigger aircraft are to land here, only then is an extension needed," he said. "For what lands now, this is more than sufficient."

Boeing 737 and Airbus 320 and 321 aircraft can use the airfield now. But longer-haul planes such as Boeing 747s would need about 2,000 more feet of runway. Mr Vasudeva said that "it was yet to be decided" whether the airport and the runway needed to be rebuilt to accommodate more traffic.

"We have to study that," he said.

The airport already has been fitted with the a new air traffic control tower after the old one was damaged during the crash.

But "there is no safety or security hazard," Mr Vasudeva said.

In January, Vayalar Ravi replaced Mr Patel as the civil aviation minister. He said that the only obstacle to a runway extension was a lack of land.

"There is no space to expand the Mangalore runway," Mr Ravi said. "It depends on the government giving land to expand. I have fixed a meeting this Tuesday to discuss this issue further with the concerned officials."

There have been reports that farmers around the airfield have been reluctant to give up their property. But Mr Vasudeva said, "the farmers were ready to give up their land" and that there have been "no protests".

Sudhir Shetty, the chief operating officer of the UAE Exchange in Abu Dhabi, said that as a frequent flyer, he was frustrated at how few flights there were to Mangalore.

"What needs to be taken into account is that people travel to other cities such as Bangalore and Mumbai in order to get to Mangalore, because there are not enough flights to accommodate the growing demands," he said.

He said that in spite of promises to expand the airport, "nothing concrete has been happening".

"Someone has to make a serious attempt and this is definitely not impossible, but who is really seriously trying for it?" he said.

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae