x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Plane damages airport runway lights in dense fog

Hundreds of flights out of Abu Dhabi delayed, at least 35 cancelled

ABU DHABI // Hundreds of flights out of Abu Dhabi were delayed and at least 35 cancelled yesterday after a plane damaged tarmac lights on the southbound runway of Abu Dhabi International Airport in dense fog.

Etihad Flight EY045 to Dublin veered off its line in the mist as it prepared to take off at 3.19am. The damage to the lights caused a six-hour shutdown of the southbound runway.

The Airbus A330-200 was carrying 208 passengers and crew. None was injured, but there was some damage to the aircraft's tyres.

The north runway handled all flight departure and arrivals until the south runway resumed normal operation at 9.10am after the completion of safety checks.

At least 35 flights were cancelled, including 11 Etihad flights, and 150 were delayed by more than an hour, according to flightstats.com.

"The airport resumed normal operations this morning, with expected delays in some flight departures," said Ahmad Al Haddabi, chief operating officer at Abu Dhabi Airports Company (Adac).

The airline is expected to resume its normal schedule today.

Etihad apologised to passengers who had been inconvenienced and said it was doing everything possible to help those affected.

Passengers on the Dublin-bound flight disembarked and were sent to nearby hotels. Etihad did not confirm if all had subsequently departed for Dublin.

International golfers who had been in town for the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship were not affected by the delays.

Lee Westwood and Luke Donald both said on Twitter they had left without trouble, with Donald tweeting yesterday evening: "Luckily I left from Dubai. Back in the US now…".

Etihad and local authorities are investigating the circumstances of the incident, but the fog was suspected to be a contributory factor.

The weather reduced morning traffic on major roads to a crawl.

Drivers reported gridlock conditions in Jebel Ali, on the Abu Dhabi-Al Ain motorway and in the south-west of the capital.

Kostas Lalas, a Dubai resident from Greece, took pictures of the conditions and posted them on Facebook.

"I saw thick fog as I was driving from Motor City to Bur Dubai at around 6.30am," he said. "The visibility was very low and I had to turn on my lights.

"It was a bad situation, but it got better as you moved closer towards the city."

Robert Hodges, chief operating officer at the Emirates Driving Institute in Dubai, urged motorists to be careful while driving in fog.

"People are not used to driving in foggy conditions in the UAE. There are certain basic things which everyone should do," he said.

"Do not drive at high speed if you cannot see anything in front of you, and also do not put hazard lights on as it is not helpful."

Instead, he advised motorists to slow down, switch on their sidelights and dim their headlights.

While police did not report any accidents related to yesterday's fog, the UAE has witnessed its fair share of horrific crashes in the past.

In 2008, the Ghantoot pile-up of over 150 vehicles on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai motorway resulted in the death of four and injuries to hundreds.

Just four months ago, 14 people were injured in a 32-car pile-up on Dubai Bypass Road. At least 60 were injured and one died in a 127-car pile-up on the Abu Dhabi-Dubai motorway near Al Samha in April.

The National Center of Meteorology and Seismology also urged motorists to drive carefully in the fog. A weather forecaster said foggy conditions were likely to persist today as the temperature continues to fall. Seas will remain rough but will become moderate by the afternoon.

frahman@thenational.ae