Potholes on Mumbai’s main runway delay takeoffs, landings

09 Oct 2017


Heavy rains affected the flight operations at the Mumbai airport on Sunday, the second time in less than a month, causing delays.

Early morning departures from Mumbai were delayed by an average of an hour because of the potholes. Unlike roads, keeping a potholed runway open poses a serious risk as debris could endanger the safety of departing and landing aircraft.

After the discovery of potholes, the main runway was closed for repairs, and flight operations were carried out on the less-efficient secondary runway for close to four hours.

The Mumbai airport handles over 900 departures and arrivals a day and the unscheduled closure of the main runway during the morning peak hours affected flight schedules severely.

This was the second time in less than a month that the Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL), the GVK-led joint venture airport company, had to shut the main runway, 009/27, for operations.

The runway remained out of use for over three hours, and operations were shifted to the capacity-constrained secondary runway - 14/32.

"As a result, both arrivals and departures were affected with the incoming flights reporting an average delay of two hours, while departures getting delayed by almost an hour till the afternoon," a source told PTI.

"Around 5.45am, just before dawn, the pilot of an aircraft that had lined up for departure reported that he could see two potholes and debris on the main runway 27," an air traffic control source told The Times of India.

The affected portion, about 90 feet wide, was between taxiways N1 and N3, the aircraft pathway to enter / exit the main runway. It was at the beginning of the runway, before the runway threshold denoted by piano key markings.

After the pilot's report, a runway inspection was carried out and the main runway was shut down for repairs. The Mumbai air traffic control issued a NOTAM (notice to airmen) stating that the main runway would be shut down from 6.17am to 10am IST.

A Mumbai International Airport Pvt Ltd (MIAL) spokesperson said that repairs were completed in 30 minutes. But air traffic control sources said that operations were restored on the main runway only after 10am. However, a spokesperson of the MIAL said the runway closure resulted in a delay of "half-an-hour".

"Runway 009/27 was not available from 6 am due to a pothole between the N1 and N3 runways. Due to the repair work on the taxiway, the secondary runway was put into operations," the spokesperson added.

An airline commander, requesting anonymity, said that the report about potholes on the runway came as a surprise to many pilots. "How can a runway cave in like this? I've never seen anything like this in my 25-year career,'' he told TOI.

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