Tabletop runways — Why is it risky to land on them?

table top runways
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A runway end at an airport with tabletop runways looks out over a small valley and is located on top of a plateau. Tabletop runways reportedly offer no margin for error during landing. According to experts, landings on tabletop runways can be challenging because they provide pilots with a visual effect.

Tabletop runways at airports can occasionally present challenges for pilots while attempting to land their aircraft because they are built on raised terrain and typically have minimal area for last-minute manoeuvres. On such runways, Air India Express aircraft have crashed at least twice in the past little over ten years.

Kozhikode Airport, also known as Calicut International Airport, has received a special government committee’s proposal to make the runway safer. The high-level committee formed to look into the airport crash in August 2020 made extending the safety zone around the runway one of its proposals.

India has five tabletop runways: Mangalore in Karnataka, Kozhikode in Kerala, Lengpui in Mizoram, Shimla in Himachal Pradesh, and Pakyong in Sikkim. These airports’ constrained space makes landings there more difficult.

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Crash in Mangalore in 2010

And other catastrophic events have taken place at airports with short runways besides the one in Kerala. An Air India Express Boeing 737 went off the runway in Mangalore in 2010, crashing into the valley and exploding. 158 individuals died in the collision.

In contrast to the Mangalore crash, the Kerala episode was not similar. The pilots of the aeroplane had made a middle runway landing in Mangalore. They then swiftly attempted to take off once more while employing thrust and power. From Mumbai, a top commander spoke to IANS.

Along with the challenging runway in the Kerala incident, the pilot also had to contend with the severe rains.

Air India Express crash in 2020

On August 7, 2020, due to bad weather, Air India Express flight 1344 from Dubai crashed, causing the incident near Kozhikode. At least 21 people were killed when the aircraft, which was being used for a repatriation flight. The airplane skidded off the slick runway and plunged into a 35-foot-deep chasm.

21 of the 190 passengers, including the pilot, Capt. D.V. Sathe, and his co-pilot, Akhilesh Kumar, died as a result of their wounds. In its inquiry report, the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) identified pilot error as the crash’s most likely cause, combined with structural problems at AI Express. However, the incident made it clear that, in order to stop similar occurrences from happening again, there must be stronger security in place surrounding the airport’s runway.

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The most dangerous tabletop runways

Excavating the summits of hills to create a table-top is a common approach to building table-top runways. The danger of accidents on such runways increases if pilots undershoot or overshoot their approach owing to pilot mistake or a technical issue.

According to a senior Air India pilot, automation might not be helpful in the case of tabletop runways. Additionally, the runway may appear closer even when it is actually farther away due to an optical illusion, he continued.

In contrast to conventional runways, the pilot further emphasized that there is not much of a buffer zone. These airfields require extra skill and caution when conducting fly operations due to the undulating terrain and space limitations. Tabletop runways can provide a problem for the nearby access roads, as it is necessary in the event of an aircraft crash.

The official claims that pilots are frequently given information about these runways and other restrictions.

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The research said, citing ICAO data, that the majority of accidents take place during the landing and take-off phases, with a significant number of runway excursions and aircraft overrunning into the overshoot region.

“Given the high speed of these aircraft, a downward slope in the overrun region could make the outcome worse”. Therefore, it is necessary to raise slopes that face inward, such as those in Mangalore, to the runway’s level.

This should be done at all national tabletop airports, based on the study.

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