Mangalore airport not the only ‘tricky’ one in India: Pilots

Chennai, May 23 (IANS) The Mangalore Airport, with its table-top runway located on top of a hill, is not the only one in India where pilots find it difficult to land and passengers often get scared.

Some pilots told IANS that the airports at Leh, Srinagar, Kozhikode, Bagdogra, Agartala, Guwahati, Silchar, Lengpui, Port Blair, Kulu and those in the North Eastern states are also ‘tricky’ ones, requiring some deft manoeuvring while landing and taking off.

If one airport has a difficult topography, another is uni-directional while yet another is located close to the international border with pilots running the risk of violating airspace of another nation.

‘Port Blair airport is uni-directional. Due to the nearby hillocks an aircraft can land only from one direction and take off in the opposite direction,’ Captain E. Daniel, an office bearer with the Madras Flying Club, and a pilot himself, told IANS.

According to him, the airfield in Kozhikode in Kerala is a bit dicey while landing and taking off during adverse weather conditions as it is surrounded by hillocks and there is a drop beyond the runway.

‘There is nothing called safe and unsafe airfields. One can term airfields as simple and tricky. There are only safe and unsafe flying and ground conditions,’ a wing commander with the Indian Air Force said on condition of anonymity.

‘It is wrong to say that accidents are waiting to happen in difficult airports. Even in other airports, planes have overshot the runway.’

According to him, almost all the military airfields are tricky as their runways are shorter and located in difficult terrain. ‘In the case of civilian airfields some are simple to take off or land and some are tricky.’

Kochi Airport in Kerala was once considered as tricky but not now. In Agartala airport pilots can run the risk of flying over Bangladesh, said the air force official.

‘Similar is the case with Bagdogra. It has a 9,000-ft runway. The only issue is its location — near Nepal and Bangladesh borders — requiring precise landing approach, that too at a particular height,’ he added.

The Leh airport is one of the highest airports in the country built at 10,682 ft above the sea level. At that altitude it is difficult not only for human beings but also for the aircraft to act normally.

‘There is no margin for error at Leh. If a pilot errs then he will be a dead example for others,’ remarked the air force official.

Pilots say no two take-offs or landings are identical and generally do not blame airfields for accidents.

According to an Air India pilot, various other factors contribute to accidents — the weight of the aircraft at the time of landing, speed, braking, pilot fatigue, lack of advanced training and navigational gear.

‘Landing of aircrafts at difficult airfields with excess weight is risky as braking will be difficult. If you apply brakes hard the tyres will burst and the plane will go out of control. Tyres are able to take only certain amount of friction,’ said the pilot.

Meanwhile, the pilots association are charging the government with diluting the safety norms in order to cater to the demands of private airlines. Till 2005, the number of flying hours that a person should log before getting a commercial pilot licence was 250. Now it is 200 hours.

While Indian air force pilots have to get commercial pilot’s licence before they can fly civilian aircraft there is no such stipulation in other countries.

‘Compared to defence planes, civilian aircraft are more sophisticated and the pilots need training. Many of the foreign pilots earlier flew defence aircraft. They are flying civilian planes here,’ said a senior pilot not wishing to be named.

According to pilots, like its diverse culture India has airports located in diverse terrain.

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