Kozhikode Air India Plane Crash: LDF, IUML Blame One Another For Failing To Get Land For Airport Runway Extension

Kozhikode Air India Plane Crash: LDF, IUML Blame One Another For Failing To Get Land For Airport Runway ExtensionThe wreckage of the plane.
Snapshot
  • Airport authorities are looking at options that includes creating an artificial structure on the gorge amid a blame game between LDF and IUML.

The ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) are locked in a blame game in Kerala over the LDF not acquiring the required land to extend the Karipur airport runway at Kozhikode.

The airport runway has come into focus as it has been blamed for Friday’s (7 August) air crash that killed 18 people and injured scores.

In the mishap, an Air India Boeing 737-800 aircraft that came from Dubai carrying 191 people, including the crew, overshot the runway and plunged into a 35 feet deep gorge that resulted in the aircraft breaking into three.

The Karipur airport runway is one of the five table-top runways in the country that is located atop a hill or a piece of land surrounded by gorges. As a result, their runways are short that could cause a problem even for well-experienced pilots during bad weather.

In 2010, a similar mishap happened at another tabletop runway airport in Mangaluru killing 158 people. This has led to the revival of plans to extend Karipur airport’s runway amidst the problem of non-availability of additional land.

Aviation regulator Directorate-General of Civil Aviation has blamed the UDF government led by Pinarayi Vijayan for failing to acquire land to extend the runway.

Economic Times reported that the LDF is blaming the IUML for stalling the land acquisition process. At least six meetings have been held since 2016 but the IUML played spoilsport with land acquisition, a charge the latter has denied.

Plans to extend the airport runway have been hit as the state government could not allocate additional land to the Airports Authority of India, which is in charge of developing the airport.

The problem with the Karipur airport is that its runway was 2,850 metres until 2016. The length was reduced by 100 metres as the airport authorities required to facilitate the runway end safety area.

The safety area’s length was extended to 240 metres with 90 metres of the runway being added to it. Ironically, these changes were made in tune with the recommendations made after the 2010 Mangaluru mishap.

The runway end safety area is one that can help an aircraft sink if the flight overshoots.

The New Indian Express reported that the Airports Authority of India decided to extend the runway by 800 metres in 2017 and awaited allocation of land by the LDF government. However, the state government washed its hands off saying land costs were high and the locals were resisting any shifting since the rehabilitation process announced was seen as a piecemeal plan.

Kerala Higher Education Minister K T Jaleel was quoted by Economic Times as saying that the land acquisition process will begin soon.

LDF leaders are blaming the IUML, a constituent of the Congress-led United Democratic Front, and other Islamic organisations such as the Jamaat-e-Islami and Welfare Party for scuttling the land acquisition.

IUML leaders say that the local people did not agree to land acquisition since the LDF government did not have a proper plan in place. The state government failed to dispel the locals’ fear that they could be displaced quite a few times if their lands were acquired and sought a clear road map.

The Vijayan government shelved the talks midway without addressing these concerns, the leaders said.

Both LDF and UDF argue that they have, in the past, dealt with land acquisition for various projects. LDF leaders point out how their government acquired nearly 95 per cent of the land required for the GAIL natural gas pipeline project.

The Kerala government had set aside Rs 14,000 crore for land acquisition and other works for the airport.

In view of the latest mishap, the airport authorities are now looking at other options, including to create an artificial structure on the gorge that is part of the airport premises.

However, everything will now hinge on the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau’s report on the mishap.

M.R. Subramani is Executive Editor, Swarajya. He tweets @mrsubramani

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