Plea in SC says ‘deliberate omission’ to install fail-safe system in Mangaluru, Kozhikode airports

The Supreme Court asked the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to respond to a plea that there was a “deliberate omission” for years to install a fail-safe system to stop aircraft from overshooting runways at vulnerable airports such as Mangaluru and Kozhikode.

A three-judge Bench, led by Chief Justice of India (CJI) Sharad A. Bobde issued notice to the Ministry and the DGCA on a writ petition filed by Delhi resident Rajen Mehta, represented by advocate Shohit Chaudhry.

Mr. Mehta sought the installation of the Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS) in at-risk airports across the country, especially Kozhikode and Mangaluru. He said the EMAS could have averted the tragic Mangaluru air crash of 2010 and the recent one in Kozhikode. Timely installation could have saved lives and crores of rupees in aircraft loss.

“The existence of EMAS was brought to the knowledge of Air Authority of India (AAI) and the respondents [DGCA and Civil Aviation Ministry) in 2008. However, for no plausible reason, it has not been installed till date. During this time, the aviation industry has seen two horrific incidents at Mangalore and Calicut causing loss of hundreds of lives, which could have been saved by the timely action of the respondents”, the petition said.

EMAS was installed in approximately 125 airports across the world, it pointed out.

Seeks criminal action

Mr. Mehta also sought an enquiry into the delay in installing EMAS despite specific knowledge about the vulnerability of the Mangaluru and Kozhikode airports. He said criminal action should be initiated against the officials responsible for the delay.

The 85-year-old petitioner, who had trained with the Swedish Borg Fabrik that manufactures Aircraft Arresting Systems, explained that EMAS system was an arrestor bed of crushable material, like concrete blocks, placed at the end of a runway to stop an aircraft from overshooting.

He said the AAI was formerly “inclined” to install EMAS in Kozhikode and Mangaluru and invited proposals from his former employer. “In 2008, due to the extreme economic crisis, the Calicut (Kozhikode) EMAS project was put in abeyance”, the petition said.

“The Court of Inquiry, appointed to investigate into the Mangaluru crash had specifically recommended that systems like the EMAS should be installed on the runway overshoot areas, especially for table-top airports… Despite the same, no action was taken by the respondents”, it stated.

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