Pilots’ move may have saved many: Experts

Mumbai: While the civil aviation ministry on Saturday did not comment on the prima facie cause of the accident involving an Air India Express flight, experts believe that casualties in the accident at Kozhikode airport was restricted to 18 because of the pilots shut down the engines after touching down on the runway — a move that could have made sure that the aircraft did not catch fire.

The accident involving the B737 aircraft with 190 people on board arrived from Dubai and was operating as part of India’s Vande Bharat Mission (VMB). According to officials from Airports Authority of India (AAI), the aircraft touched down near a taxiway that is around 1,000 metres from the beginning of the runway, before breaking up into two pieces. Kozhikode airport has a tabletop runway.

A former Air India Engineering Services Ltd. (AIESL) official, who did not want to be named, said: “It was a very wise decision by the pilots (both of them died in the crash) to shut down the two engines, which, as per me, is the only reason the aircraft did not catch fire. Usually, the engines are shut down only after an aircraft comes to halt and never after touching down.”

An AAI official agreed. “Fuel is filled in the wings of an aircraft and not the fuselage. The aircraft seems to have landed normally, due to which there was minimum damage to the wings and engines that remained intact. By the time the engines slightly touched the runway surface, the pilots had already switched off the engines, significantly reducing the possibility of the aircraft catching fire,” he said, requesting anonymity.

However, Arun Kumar, aviation regulator DGCA, however, said: “All this (theories) is conjectural, let the report come; we will know.”

A senior Air India Express official, who too spoke on condition of anonymity, said, “It is a known fact that the pilots were highly experienced and hence their presence of mind led to minimum possible damage to the lives of the passengers. Also, by looking at the pictures, fuselage of the aircraft was far away from the front portion of the aircraft. So, may be the cockpit of the aircraft banged the wall due to which they lost their lives.”

Rubbishing the theory of belly landing (when an aircraft lands on its belly), a former DGCA official said: “No senior pilots will ever commit the mistake of trying to land on the belly on a table to the airport. He would rather prefer diverting to nearby airports as he knows that there is a possibility of the aircraft running into the valley.”

According to AAI, Runway 28, where the Air India Express flight first attempted to land, was in use. In the second attempt the pilots landed on runway 10. The pilot then requested for Runway 10. AAI officials said that the pilots sight the runway only about a minute before landing when the atmospherics are not in favour of the aircraft. When the weather is bad- poor visibility with heavy rainfall- runway is visible only from a certain distance (ft) away.

AAI said the aircraft touched down near taxiway ‘C’, which is approximately 1,000 metres from the beginning of Runway 10. The total length of the runway is 2,700 metres. The reported visibility at the time of landing was 2,000 metres as it was raining.

DGCA also clarified that the AAI, which operates the Kozhikode airport, was issued a notice by them in July last year. This notice had pointed out safety lapses which were later worked upon by the AAI.

However, a former Air India official said: “To me the theory of aquaplaning (a condition which occurs when a layer of water builds between the wheels of the aircraft and the runway surface) and contamination appears to be one of the contributory factors to the accident.”

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