Just over a month after an aircraft accident in Calicut involving an Air India Express plane that reportedly killed 18 people, a retired mechanical engineer has filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court blaming Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) and DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) for not installing Engineered Material Arresting System (EMAS) that could have prevented the unfortunate incident.
While the apex court has asked the ministry and the regulator to file a response to the petition, petitioner Rajen Mehta is seeking an enquiry and appropriate action against the DGCA and MoCA officials for failing to take action, despite having knowledge of such systems.
For the uninitiated, the EMAS system uses the crushable material placed at the end of a runway to stop an aircraft that overruns the runway. The system can stop aircraft going at the speed of 70 knots or less, and is suitable for 10-12 airports in the country, including Calicut, Mangalore, Bagdogra, and Shimla. These systems were first installed in New York in 1996, and are currently used in over 125 airports across the globe. It has been reported that at least 15 crash incidents have been avoided by EMAS in the US alone.
As per Mehta, who used to work with ESCO ASMSS - a company that makes these systems - the existence of EMAS was brought to the knowledge of Airports Authority of India (AAI), DGCA, and MoCA in 2008 but these systems are yet to be installed at the airports which are prone to accidents. "During this time, the aviation industry has seen two horrific incidents at Mangalore (in 2010) and Calicut (in 2020) causing loss of hundreds of lives, which could have been saved by the timely action," the petition says.
In fact, following the Mangalore airport incident, the court of inquiry recommended the installation of EMAS at table-top airports like Mangalore. But despite a series of presentations by ESCO ASMSS officials, they were informed by AAI that DGCA never gave clearance regarding installation of EMAS.
As per Mehta, AAI had given the in-principle go-ahead for installation for EMAS in 2008. But once DGCA got involved in the process, the project never saw the light of the day. He says that the corrupt motives of the DGCA officials should not be spared for the loss of lives of citizens of the country.
"...the Respondent No. 1 [DGCA] has deliberately sabotaged the entire project by providing incorrect information and blatant lying to the AAI...Despite seeking the information under the Right to Information Act, 2005, the Respondents [DGCA and MoCA] have withheld these records/minutes of meeting. Thus, the intervention of this Hon'ble Court is required," the petition says.