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Panel for safer runway at Lengpui

Guwahati, June 21: An expert panel has recommended installation of additional safety measures on the runway of Lengpui airport in Mizoram to avert incidents of planes overshooting the strip and crashing like it happened with a Cessna aircraft last year.

The panel, constituted by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to probe the Cessna aircraft crash, recommended construction of safety areas at each end of the tabletop runway to help avert future disasters.

The runway-end safety area is a paved zone meant to reduce chances of damage if a plane overshoots the runway.

The panel, headed by former Indian Air Force safety head Air Marshal (retd) P.S. Ahluwalia, said in its report that the Lengpui runway did not have the end areas, which, if available, would increase the level of safety of the airport.

According to DGCA norms, a runway-end safety area should extend from the end of a runway strip to a distance of at least 90 metres and its width should be at least twice that of the runway.

On May 4 last year, the small Cessna Caravan aircraft owned by private airliner North East Shuttles Pvt Ltd had overshot the runway and crashed into a 60-foot-deep ravine, injuring nine passengers. The plane, too, suffered substantial damage.

Lengpui airport is owned by the Mizoram government and is licensed by the DGCA for public use.

The probe panel, with Capt. Sanjay Verma and K.B. Batra as the other two members, found that though the instrument landing system (ILS) was installed at the airport in 2008, it had not been commissioned till the date of the accident.

The report said the present location of air traffic control (ATC) tower did not permit full view of the runway towards the end because of the presence of a high hillock between the tower and the runway.

It added that though the lack of the instrument landing system and part visibility of the runway were not the contributing factors in the crash, corrective action regarding these lacunae would increase the airport’s safety.

According to an official source, the Lengpui airport can be considered critically placed, as its tabletop runway did not have runway-end safety areas and its technical facilities were not enough.

“Without runway-end safety areas, Lengpui offers pilots little room for error. While landing here, the pilot must be fully alert,” the source said.

Tabletop runways are those that are carved out of hilltops, are surrounded by gorges and offer little space for planes to manoeuvre in case it overshoots the runway while landing.

The probe panel has, however, held “inadequate skill level of the pilot” responsible for the last year’s accident.

The inquiry revealed that the pilot was not cleared, in accordance with DGCA regulations, to operate in airports situated on hilly terrain.

The report said the pilot had not completed the regulatory 100 hours of flying mandatory for undertaking solo flights and added the operator, North East Shuttles Pvt Ltd, had also failed to ensure compliance of this norm.

The inquiry committee also recommended upgrade of the Met observatory at Lengpui, as it is not equipped to forecast weather.