Crash paralyses Mangalore airport


Mangalore (Karnataka) : The tragic crash of an Air India Express Boeing 737 killing at least 158 passengers Saturday has severely disrupted operations at the Mangalore airport.

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“Since the crash around 6 a.m., all operations, including flight services, have been suspended and we have been busy coordinating rescue and relief work at the mishap site,” said an Airports Authority of India (AAI) official at Bajpe airport, about 30 km northeast of Mangalore.

The picturesque airport with a table top runway handles about 10-12 flights daily, including two to Dubai daily by Air India Express, the budget carrier of the state-run National Aviation Company of India Ltd.

Soon after the crash, an emergency was declared at the airport, which was recently modernised with a longer runway and a new terminal, inaugurated May 15 by Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel to provide better amenities to domestic and international passengers and other users.

“Besides Air India Express, which also operates overseas flights to the Gulf region, private carriers Jet Airways and Kingfisher provide daily services on the domestic routes to Bangalore and Mumbai,” the AAI official said.

Within 30 minutes after the IX-812 Boeing 737 overshot the runway and crashed into a forested ravine, the air traffic control (ATC) ordered both Jet and Kingfisher to cancel their services to Mangalore from Bangalore that were scheduled to land at 8.15 a.m. and 8.35 a.m. respectively.

“The overseas AI flight (IX-817) to Abu Dhabi and Muscat, which was to take-off at 9.30 a.m. remains cancelled, as the ill-fated plane that crashed while landing was to fly back to the Gulf region. The Air India Express night flight to Dubai at 9.30 p.m. also stands cancelled,” the official said, requesting anonymity.

Air India, Jet and Kingfisher also operate services to Mumbai. According to AAI officials, new flights linking Mangalore to Panaji in Goa and Kochi in Kerala were also being planned.

The Bajpe airport has a tough landing approach leading up to the edge of the hillsides that drop into the valley from about 90 metres to nine metres within a short distance of 500 metres on the eastern side and from 83 metres to 25 metres on the western side.

“Landing on this short runway was considered difficult due to its height varying from 90 metres to 83 metres from east to west,” the official noted.

Though the original airport became operational in 1951 when prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru arrived on the first flight, the shorter airstrip and the improvised passenger facilities prevented the carriers from introducing their services.

“The demand for flight services to other cities and towns gathered momentum thanks to the burgeoning economy and increased movement of people from the coastal areas to the Gulf region,” an AI spokesman said.

Direct flights to Dubai and other Gulf countries since the last three years saved local passengers the trouble of changing flights at Bangalore or Mumbai to reach home, the spokesman said.

Being a port city, the airport also handles cargo shipments for export and import of a variety of goods and raw materials.