Malappuram: A public interest litigation (PIL) petition which was filed in Kerala Highcourt demanding immediate closure of Kozhikode International Airport in the wake of the recent crash of Air India Express flight has triggered a fresh debate on the safety measures at the airport which was opened in 1988. When the PIL pointed out serious safety lapses in Kozhikode airport, a section of trade and social organsiations in Malabar are alleging conspiracy behind the demand, aiming to help private airports. 

The PIL which was submitted by advocate Yeshwant Shenoy, who has been actively pursuing issues related to aviation safety across the country over a decade, has also sought an open inquiry on air crash by a Court of Inquiry (COI) against a closed inquiry by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB).

 He has also sought an open inquiry by a COI under Rules 5(1)(d) read with Rule 12 of Aircraft (Investigation of Accidents and Incidents) Rules, 2017 opposed to a closed inquiry by AAIB.

It was on August 7, that an Air India Express flight with 190 passengers on board from Dubai overshot Karippur’s tabletop runway and plunged into a 30-metre depth. A total of 19 persons were killed in the accident when more than 100 persons were injured. The Civil Aviation authorities have already announced a detailed inquiry into the incident.

Meanwhile, alleging that the PIL was part of a planned conpiracy to help the private managements of Nedumbassery International Airport and Kannur International Airport, Malabar Development Forum (MDF)and Malabar Develolment Council (MDC) will file a counter petition against the PIL at the highcourt. Other organisations including Malabar Chamber of Commerce are also have come up with similar allegations against the petition.

The petitioner at highcourt  asserts that the Calicut Airport conforms only to Code 4C classification which prohibits wide-body aircraft that requires Code 4E. “On 1st May, 2015, the then DGCA , M Sathivathy, canceled the permission for wide bodied aircraft to operate to and from Kozhikode airport. However the current DGCA Arun Kumar re-issued the permission for wide-bodied aircraft from the airport”, the petition says. It has also  pointed out that the DGCA Safety audit had identified several safety deficiencies at the airport “There were two significant findings- excessive rubber deposits on the runway and cracks in the runway. Before resolving these safety deficiencies the DGCA renewed the licence of the airport from mid-2019 to October 2021”, it alleges.

But the MDF rules out he allegation on safety lapses at the airport as baseless. “The airport is one of the major profitable airports in the country. The airport is receiving wide-bodied aircraft for last 18 year. Prominent airline companies including Saudi Airlines, Emirates Airlines, Air India and Qatar Airways are operating more than 24000 services from the airport each year and around 1200 of them are wide-bodied air crafts which are under category ‘E’. The ill-fated small-sized aircraft was under the category of code ‘C’ and it landed amidst heavy rain and heavy tailwind. We are yet to find the real reason behind the crash and it is meaningless to put blame on the facilities at the airport for the accident”, says K M Basheer, president of the forum.

 “We were raising the same allegation regarding the conspiracy against the Karippur airport which is fully owned by the government, for last many years and the latest incident shows that a group of people with vested interest are utilising the situation after the airline crash to shut-down airport permanently. We suspect that the fresh move is aiming to indirectly help the private companies which are managing adjacent airports at Kochi and Kannur. We will legally fight against the move”, said K M Basheer, president of the forum. 

After the accident at the airport the aviation authorities had suspended the service of wide bodied aircrafts arriving at the airport. The forum has approached the civil aviation minister and Union Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan against this decision.

The letter to minister has pointed out that the Calicut International Airport follows all the guidelines from both the DGCA and International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and for following all the procedures to the point and the airport has an updated landing systems (ILS) which can help flights to safely land during heavy rainfall and foggy skies and they even conduct friction test with their own equipment all which are availble in airport itself.

The civil aviation minister Hardip Singh Puri himself has clarified that the tabletop nature of the runway was not a reason for the overshot of the runway, he pointed out
It is learnt that more organisations in Malabar districts, especially Kozhikode and Malappuram districts will join the legal flight in the coming days.

Malabar Development Council will also file a counter-petition regarding this in the high court in the coming days. President of the council, C E Chakkunny said that the organisation will strongly oppose any move against the Karippur airport which is one the safest airports in the country.