Rescue operations underway after an Air India Express flight with passengers on board en route from Dubai skidded off the runway while landing, at Karippur in Kozhikode, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. Image Credit: PTI

Kottayam: The Kozhikode airport, where Air India Express IX-1344 from Dubai skidded off the runway on Friday evening, is located in Malappuram district, and chiefly serves the Malabar region of Kerala, particularly the Kozhikode, Malappuram, Wayanad and Kannur districts.

However, since the commissioning of Kannur airport two years ago, many passengers from Kannur and Kasargod districts have been opting to land in Kannur instead.

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Of Kerala’s four international airports, Kozhikode is the only table-top airport. Table-top airports are virtual plateaus on hilly terrain and normally have shorter runways that cannot be extended given the fact that they have sharp drops or gorges at either end.

Because of the short runways, wide-bodied aircraft pilots have apprehensions on landing, and Kozhikode airport also had its problems briefly when most airlines did not fly wide-bodied aircraft into the Kozhikode airport.

But the problem was sorted out two years ago and multiple airlines have been operating wide-bodied aircraft to Kozhikode, particularly from Gulf countries.

The fears of landing at a table-top airport were aggravated in 2010 when an Air India Express flight skidded off the end of the runway into a gorge at the Mangalore airport in Kerala’s neighbouring Karnataka state. The aircraft that came in from Dubai overran the runway and fell into the hillside gorge, killing 152 passengers and six crew members.

A court of inquiry report after the 2010 crash of Air India Express flight IX 812 in Mangalore, prepared by former IAF vice-chief of air staff Air Marshal B.N. Gokhale and a team of experts, said this of table-top airports: “These airfields require extra skill and caution while carrying out flight operations” due to “the undulating terrain and constraints of space”. “The hazard of undershooting and overshooting, in particular, can lead to grave situations,” the report said.

On Friday, the Air India Express flight with 191 people on board skidded off the runway and split in two while landing in heavy rain in Kozhikode, an official said, leading to more than a dozen deaths and scores of injuries.