With every tragic high profile crash, the general public’s feeling about airline safety takes a punch. WOLE SHADARE writes
The recent incursion of Akure airport runway by cows that prevented Air Peace aircraft to delay landing for about 20 minutes has again brought to the fore the need to improve aviation safety through ensuring that airport runways are clear of obstruction.
A runway incursion is an incident where an unauthorized aircraft, vehicle or person is on a runway. This adversely affects runway safety, as it creates the risk that an airplane taking off or landing will collide with the object. It is defined by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as any occurrence at an aerodrome involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicles or persons on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and take-off of aircraft.
While aviation has been getting safer of late, runway incursions by aircraft or vehicles remain a weak spot. After all, during each flight, the passengers literally put their lives in the hands of complete strangers.
Although general aviation accidents have been decreasing over the past few years, incursions with all dangers attached to them have been increasing at an alarming rate. It is merely a matter of time for these incursions to become tragic accidents. Last week Saturday, scores of cattle made incursion into the runway of the Akure Airport, in Ondo State, preventing an Air Peace flight, which left Lagos for Akure from landing immediately until they were dispersed by security men.
March 8, 2011, the Hawker 850 aircraft carrying the then Vice-Presidential candidate of ACN, Mr. Fola Adeola, experienced scenario of runway incursion by goats and sheep at Bauchi airport.
Sources at the airport said the incident, which has become a regular feature at the airport premises occurred around 12:00 am, causing initial disturbance to the airline and passengers, forcing the former to hover mid-air for some minutes.
“The herdsmen foraged into the runaway causing some disturbance and preventing the aircraft from landing around 11:30am. The incident lasted for about 10 minutes until Aviation Security personnel, (AvSec), arrested the situation,” a source at the airport told New Telegraph.
Rising to the occasion
The management Air Peace said that flight P4 7002 from Lagos had to delay landing into Akure Airport when the pilot-in-command sighted cows on the runway at about 12.15pm. “On being alerted by control tower, aviation security personnel of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN AVSEC) quickly intervened and cleared the runway. “The flight was eventually cleared to land after about seven minutes.
Our guests on board were all calm while the delay lasted. The aircraft departed for Lagos at about 11.06 with full escort from FAAN security personnel. Confirming the incident, Air Peace Corporate Communications Manager, Mr. Chris Iwarah said: “We confirm that flight P4 7002 from Lagos had to delay landing into Akure Airport today (Saturday) when the pilot-in-command sighted cows on the runway at about 12.15pm.
“On being alerted by control tower, aviation security personnel of the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN AVSEC) quickly intervened and cleared the runway.
“The flight was eventually cleared to land after about seven minutes. Our guests on board were all calm while the delay lasted. The aircraft departed for Lagos at about 1.06 with full escort from FAAN security personnel.”
Last week’s incident is reminiscent of what happened in 2005 when Air France plane, with 196 people on board, ploughed into the cows as it touched down at Port Harcourt.
No-one on board was hurt, but the collision left seven cows dead and the runway was soaked with their blood. The embarrassment led to the Minister of Aviation at that time, Mallam Isa Yuguda to summon airport officials to explain the security breach.
Runway incursions are today one of the major factors affecting flight safety. In India, there are numerous cases of small accidents involving runway incursions every year, with the potential always present for a major disaster, such as the Tenerife airport collision on March 27, 1977, when two Boeing 747 passenger aircraft collided on the runway of Los Rodeos Airport (now known as Tenerife North Airport) on the Spanish island of Tenerife.
A total of 583 passengers died in that incident, making it the deadliest accident in aviation history. Even if accidents are avoided, incursions often cause costly flight delays.
Animals on the Runway
Animals on the runway are a particularly pervasive problem at many airports in India. There are numerous examples. In 2005, an aircraft taking off from Pune International Airport ran over a stray animal, which resulted in a two-hour delay for flights.
In 2008, an Air India aircraft narrowly escaped accident when it hit an Indian blue bull during landing at Kanpur Airport in Uttar Pradesh. Also in 2008, a Kingfisher Airlines aircraft hit a stray dog on the runway at the HAL Bangalore International Airport, resulting in the aircraft’s landing gear collapsing.
The aircraft skidded off the runway and its nose collapsed; four passengers were injured. Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan recently ordered an Airport Environmental Committee (AEC) enquiry into the recurring mishaps – hundreds every year – caused by stray animals on the runway at Babasaheb Ambedkar International Airport in Nagpur.
Perimeter absence at most airports
The absence of perimeter fences at most of the country’s airports has always posed a challenge to FAAN because of the huge capital outlay required in constructing perimeter fences, some of which are as long as 40 kilometres, across the 22 network of airports across the country. Some of the perimeter fence projects commenced in 2014 while the remaining ones were expected to be executed in 2015.
Bushes around the runways, particularly, airports that are not busy like the Akure, Ibadan, Jigawa and many others that were built by state governments but forced down the throats of FAAN, do not give full view of the perimeter, to allow both the control tower, FAAN Fire and Rescue observation posts and aviation security patrol teams have a sweeping view of the entire perimeter of an airport from their duty posts.
Static observation posts are yet to be erected at strategic locations within the perimeter fence of many of the airports to forestall premeditated and inadvertent unauthorized access to the airside.
What will really put the fear of flying into the hearts of passengers is when they personally experience an incident on the runway. Safety first is at the core of flight crew and air traffic control alike, still runway incidents and accidents keep occurring.
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