INDIAN AVIATION FAR FROM SAFE IT WOULD SEEM!

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By TESTCustomwebLP TESTCustomwebLP January 10, 2011 10:17

INDIAN AVIATION FAR FROM SAFE IT WOULD SEEM!

Flying to several smaller airports in the country may be risky with many airlines found to be operating aircraft bigger than those permitted to land at these hubs. Airports at Agartala, Port Blair, Dehradun, Ranchi, Raipur, Vizag and Varanasi have fire-fighting infrastructure adequate to handle small 60-seater ATR planes, but several A321s, B737-700s and B737-800s are being operated to some of these airports. “Most of these airports are safe to fly. But to handle a fire accident they don’t have enough fire tenders and personnel.

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has categorised airports based on fire-fighting equipment, manpower and other infrastructure available to deal with a fire emergency involving an aircraft. Based on an International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) recommendation, it has also specified the kind of aircraft based on the length and width of the fuselage an airport can handle in case of accidents. Agartala, Varanasi, Vizag, Raipur, Ranchi and Port Blair are category six airports where airlines are not allowed to fly A320s, A319s, B 737-700s or those that are longer than 28 meters. These airports should handle only ATR-type planes. Their fire-fighting capability needs to be improved for DGCA to upgrade them to the next category. However, some airlines are already operating bigger aircraft to these destinations instead of requesting that the airport be upgraded. Air India, Jet Airways and Kingfisher have been operating A321s and B 737-800s to be flown only to a category seven airport to Port Blair to meet the demand. Similarly, Dehradun is a category four airport where even an ATR should not land only planes whose length is 18 metres or less can be flown here.

Low-cost carrier SpiceJet has a fleet of B737-800s and B737-900s that should be operated to category seven airports. However, the airline has also been flying to airports like Agartala and Vizag. When SpiceJet started services from Madurai in September 2010, it was a category 6 airport. It was upgraded to category seven on October 18.

Airlines are the violators because the “safety department of every airline is supposed to ascertain all aspects of an airport topography, wind condition, fire-fighting facilities, runway bearing, runway capacity and others before applying for permission to operate services. These parameters are reported to DGCA and should also be briefed to the pilots. DGCA gives approval based on the application and the report submitted by the airlines,” said an airport official.

However, an airline official said rules were drafted in such a way that the responsibility does not fall on the DGCA. “Officials merely go through the safety assessment report submitted by airlines to approve services. They check only the flight number but don’t check if we are allowed to fly a particular type of aircraft to the airport. The onus of safety and compliance of rules is on us,” said an official of a private airline.

Airlines have for years been flying larger aircraft to smaller airports and the DGCA didn’t know about it, say sources. Often, the rules remain only on paper. “The fire-fighting infrastructure and preparedness at an airport often do not match with that shown on paper. Chennai is a category nine airport with fire-fighting equipment and personnel for any eventuality. But, that’s in theory only. There is a shortage of personnel. Recently, when a Cambata Aviation vehicle caught fire, the crash tender brought to the spot did not have water in it. The vehicle was gutted by the time the fire tender returned with water,” said a source.

In 1999, when an Air France freighter plane crashlanded here it got stuck on the runway and caught fire. But, fire services personnel, who were to rush there, were relaxing after a hard night’s partying. By the time they reached the spot the plane was gutted and the pilot was injured after jumping out of the cockpit window.

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By TESTCustomwebLP TESTCustomwebLP January 10, 2011 10:17
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