Mumbai runway finally cleared


The Turkish Airlines’ Airbus A340 plane, which had skidded three days earlier on the main runway at the airport here and then got stuck, rendering the stretch inoperative, was finally removed today.

While the loss incurred by Mumbai International Airport Ltd (MIAL) and other airlines, owing to flight cancellations and diversions, could not be known, Turkish Airlines (TA) or its insurer would have to pay the cost involved. This could include about $75,000 in charges to Air India (AI), which did the job, plus charges to MIAL, which facilitated construction of a pathway to remove the plane from slush.

AI, as a member of the International Airlines Technical Pool (IATP), is sole custodian of disabled aircraft recovery kits in India and South Asia. The task of removing the plane, using inflatable air bags, was done by the government carrier. “Turkish Airlines is a member of IATP but not a participant in the recovery kit sharing pool and, hence, would have to pay AI for its services,” an aviation source said. Members of that pool can use the recovery kit for seven days free of cost, but non-members are required to pay $65,000 as uplift fee and $3,000 a day for usage. In addition, AI can charge for the costs of its engineers and other personnel to assist the operation.

Additionally, TA will have to pay MIAL, which removed the slush and prepared pathways for access of the plane, using material and personnel from Larsen & Toubro, which is constructing the airport’s integrated terminal . About 200 manual labourers and 34 engineers from L&T were involved in the three-day operation. Plus, 70 truckloads of material was used to construct the pathway.

“It’s a huge cost,” a source added. An MIAL spokesperson did not respond to the query. A TA spokesperson said the airline would not comment until the technical analysis and investigations were completed.

The plane was removed from slush after midnight and pulled to AI’s hangar at around 6.45 a.m. Aviation experts have criticised the handling of the recovery operation, saying three days was too long to remove a disabled plane.

Experts also criticised MIAL, saying it clearly lacked the expertise required for such an operation.

MIAL officials said the task was made difficult by rain, strong winds and the soil condition. “It is easy to give sermons. The plane was stuck in slush and it was difficult for a person to stand, let alone move equipment there. However, we were lucky, since the terminal construction work is on. All the labourers had airport entry passes and that saved the time required in security clearances,” a senior MIAL official said.

TA also flew in technicians and engineers on Friday evening. “Entire Friday was spent in removing the cargo from the plane. Some equipment had to be flown in from Turkey and that came only on Saturday. The task of preparing the pathway was complete on Sunday evening, after which the actual work of removing the plane was carried out,” an airport source said.