July 8, 2008

Clouds, Dog Disrupt Flights at Mumbai

By Manju V

MUMBAI: To make a safe landing at Mumbai airport during the monsoon, it appears, is a Herculean task that requires tons of patience in the cockpit as the pilot gears up to wait for hours as well as a lot of precious aviation fuel.

On Friday, flights hovered, were turned away, were made to do a go-around or wait endlessly to take-off even as clouds and canines connived to make air operations as difficult as it could ever be.

"You cannot fly an aircraft into a Cb (cumulonimbus) cloud, it's foolish and fatal. So every other pilot was asking for alternate directions to approach for landing on runway 27 from the ATC," said a senior commander.

It was at this time juncture that a dog ran onto a runway in use.

Even as the dog ran in and out of runway 27, Air Traffic Control (ATC) officials decided not to take a chance and had four flights (Air India, Kingfisher Airlines, Jet Airways and a charter aircraft) coming into land do a go-around, even as another five flights (four Jet Airways flights from Bangkok, Bangalore, Chennai and Delhi and one Kingfisher Airlines flight from Bangalore) were diverted - one to Pune and rest to Ahmedabad. It was harrowing for passengers as well.

"There was much mid-air turbulence today and quite a few passengers were puking," said a cabin crew member of a low-cost carrier. A senior commander said: "I took two-and-a-half hours to complete a flight which otherwise takes only an hour. I was 18th in the landing sequence."

If the aircraft did manage to come over the runway, strong cross- winds tested the pilot's resolve to touch down on the runway's centre. "After I landed, I saw that there were eight aircraft waiting in queue for take-off," a pilot said.

What added to the chaos was the fact that Friday also happens to be the day when both runways are closed alternatively for carrying out weekly repair and maintenance. It was 1.45pm by the time, MIAL officials decided to close down the main runway 27 for 30 minutes maintenance. But at 2pm, a cargo aircraft flying Fujairah-Mumbai- Dubai gave a call for an emergency landing.

"As runway 14 could not be used due to clouds in its approach path, we opened up runway 27 and the maintenance work was stopped. A full emergency was declared and the Antonov aircraft landed safely," said an ATC official.

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