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Shimla’s table-top airport ‘riskiest’, needs timely expansion: Aviation experts after Kerala plane crash

At present, the runway at Shimla airport is less than 1,200-metre long and its expansion is facing abnormal delays owing to nearby forest area and private land.

SNS | New Delhi |

In the wake of the Kerala plane crash that killed 18 persons, concerns are being raised at Shimla airport at Jubbarhatti — located 2,196 metres above the sea level — which is one of country’s ‘riskiest’ table-top airport like Kozhikode.

Aviation experts have called for timely expansion of Himachal Pradesh state capital’s airport.

On an average, 12 to 15 unscheduled domestic flights arrive every month at the Shimla airport, officials were quoted as saying by IANS. Also a heli-taxi service is operated from here regularly under the Udan-II (Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik) scheme.

It is learnt that the state officials have raised the issue with the Airports Authority of India (AAI) a number of times to explore the possibility of expansion of the airstrip at Jubbarhatti, some 22 km from Shimla, to facilitate safe landings of aircraft.

At present, the runway is less than 1,200-metre long and its expansion is facing abnormal delays owing to nearby forest area and private land.

For the runway extension, the minimum required length is 1,500 metres which enables a 40-seater aircraft to operate as per the new safety norms, a state civil aviation official said.

In 2015, national carrier Air India’s subsidiary Alliance Air conducted a test-flight to restart regular service between New Delhi and Shimla. The trial run of a 42-seat plane was successful.

Officials say landing an aircraft at the Shimla airport is a challenge because of the gorges surrounding the runway.

Likewise, the airstrip in Kullu town runs parallel to the Beas river.

As many as 18 people, including two pilots have died and 149 are injured after an Air India Express flight from Dubai, carrying 190 persons on board, overshoot the runway amid heavy rain, plunged deep down 35 ft. into the valley below and broke in two pieces while landing at Karipur International Airport in Kerala’s Kozhikode district late Friday evening.

The aircraft, which made a hard-landing, broke in two after falling off the ‘table-top’ airport, but did not catch fire and thus a greater disaster was averted.

According to flight-tracking website FlightRadar24, the crashed aircraft had circled the airport several times and made two attempts to land.

The DGCA has ordered a detailed inquiry into the Kerala plane accident.