The decision of the Air India Express to station aircraft in the Middle East, designating Kozhikode and Thiruvananthapuram as the “alternative airports” and a host of swift decisions helped to lessen the hardship of the flyers on account of the closure of the runway of Cochin International Airport since 11 a.m. on Monday due to flooding.
Besides, the coordinated effort of the CIAL, Airports Authority of India and operating airlines, timely issual of NoTAM (Notice to Airmen) to alert aircraft pilots of potential hazards and deploying of large aircraft by foreign airlines from the Middle East has helped to avoid hardship to NRKs who had booked in advance to reach home for the forthcoming Ramzan.
Although it is off-season for the airlines operating to the Middle East from the State, the airline managers swung into action and decided to operate the flights as per schedule either to Thriuvananthapuram or Kozhikode to avoid backlog of passengers in Kochi and in the Middle East.
Sources in the national carrier said the passengers from the Middle East and those who had booked return ticket were given the option of flying down or boarding from the other two airports or to cancel the tickets and opt for rebooking at a later date. “This worked out for us and the passengers were shifted by road from the two cities to Kochi. We could also take the passengers back to the Middle East as the aircraft was positioned in the Middle East instead of Kochi,” he added.
The airlines also contacted the passengers and their relatives over telephone to communicate the closure of the airport and intimated them the alternate travel arrangements. Air India Express daily handles five arrivals and five departures and 2000 passengers on an average of the 11,000 in Cochin airport.
The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) also granted permission to the Gulf carriers like Ethihad to operate larger aircraft like A 330-200 to overcome the crisis. The AAI officials in Thiruvananthapuram led by Airport Director, V. N. Chandran also rose to the occasion and made swift decisions to handle more aircraft in the premier airport of the State.
Cochin Airport Director, A.C.K. Nair told The Hindu that they hope to commence flight operations by 3.30 p.m., by the time NoTAM will end, as the water level has receded. Over 200 workers were deployed to pump out the water and for cleaning to remove foreign bodies from the runway, if any.
The flooding of the shoulders of the runway was caused after the shutters of the Edamalayar dam, 75 km from Kochi, were opened on Sunday. In fact, there was three metres of water in the runway and the runway was closed to avoid structural damage. In the taxiway, there was two feet water and over a quarter feet in the parking bays. The CIAL authorities acted as per the ICAO standards and sought for NoTAM.
Pointing out that the reverse flow of water from Periyar led to the closure of the airport, Mr. Nair said the runway was designed at 8.5 metres taking into account the historic flood level of 7.5 metres.
AI official said the closure of runway for over a day will result in shift of passengers from Central Kerala, especially those bound to the Middle East, to Thiruvananthapuram which is considered as an “all weather airport and does not have history of flight diversions on account of inclement weather.” The airlines will have a second thought as well in commencing new lights to the CIAL airport.