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During the wet evening of 7 August 2020, a Boeing-737 belonging to Air India Express, the subsidiary of Air India, attempted to land a second time at Calicut International Airport at 19:40pm when it overran Runway 10 and plunged down a slope at undesirably high speed.
From Dubai to Kozhikode, IX-1344 was a special ‘Vande Bharat’ repatriation mission flight carrying 174 passengers (10 infants), 2 flight crew and 4 cabin crew, and was described by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) to have skidded beyond the parameters of the safety area at 1,000 metres from the runway start to end before breaking apart, claiming 17 lives (including both flight crew).
Calicut International Airport is the 7th busiest airport in India and has one of
the shortest runways, known as a ‘tabletop runway’. Early examination of the cockpit
wreckage by investigators shows the throttle in the fully forward position, indicative of an attempt to take off rather than land whilst the spoilers were not in a retracted position crucial to reducing speed.
A ‘tabletop’ runway is infamous for presenting hazards of ‘overshooting’ and ‘undershooting’ with no margin for error as it is believed to create an optical illusion of being on the same level as the ground and hence a pilot could assume to have touched down on the ideal landing point yet be much further forward in reality. The distinguishing factors of a ‘tabletop’ runway is a shorter airfield at an airport built at elevation, either man-made or natural, such as on top of or on the side of mountainous terrain, with the total runway being much shorter and facing out to a drop or embankment.
Historically, the runway of Kozhikode had been shortened to accommodate a feature known as the ‘Runway End Safety Area’ or RESA that is designed to lower the risk of an aircraft overturning during landing or aborting take-off. A RESA is defined as the surface surrounding the runway prepared or suitable for reducing the risk to safety and damage to an aircraft in the event of an undershoot, overshoot, or excursion from the runway. In this instance, the RESA was 240 metres and the mandatory length of such is 90 metres according to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) (2). Given this happened on a RESA of 240 metres, it is of concern that the mandatory standard of the ICAO is only 90 metres and itcalls for review to increase those standard dimensions further or at least ensure a length of 240 metres is mandatory despite the effect of local issues and physical environments.
According to the AAI, there are several known airports with ‘tabletop runways’, namely Lengpui (Mizoram), Shimla and Kullu (Himachal Pradesh), Pakyong (Sikkim), Mangaluru (Karnataka), Kozhikode and Kannur (Kerala).
Whilst this incident is under early investigation as authorities examine digital flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder, theory suggests that aircraft’s are more susceptible to landing failure in such topography. Another Air India Express crash on 22 May 2010 had previously raised awareness of the problematic nature of tabletop runways, when flight IX-812 from Dubai to Mangaluru overran the runway while attempting to land, claiming 158 lives out of a total 160 passengers and 6 crew. Tragically, it does not appear that much has been done since this incident to ensure these runways are safe.
Alarmingly, Captain Mohan Ranganathan, being a member of the Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Committee (CASAC) constituted by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, addressed this very issue almost a decade ago.
In a letter of 17 June 2011, Ranganathan addressed the chairman of the CASAC and stated that “Runway 10 approach should not be permitted in view of the lack of RESA and the terrain beyond the end of the runway”. He also advised that India needs to move away from the defence that every runway conforms with the rules and regulations of the ICAO towards actively rectifying the real deficiencies that they currently present. He also advised that if the Government is serious then it needs to declare Kozhikode as a Code 3C airport for only narrow body aircraft; ban landings on runway 10 during monsoon season; ensure that all runway condition standards are enforced; ensure approach and landing accident training for pilots is enforced strictly and that the aviation industry continues to be transparent in its safety-oriented approach rather than commercial interests.
Claims under the Warsaw Convention 1929 and the Montreal Convention 1999
Under international law, families of the victims may be eligible for compensation from the air carrier Air India Express as a matter of law, even if the airline is found to not be primarily at fault. In regard to whether airline compensation claims are possible, and the extent to which they could be made out, a claim will vary depending on the routing/ticketing and itinerary of the passenger and a variety of complex associated jurisdictional questions to determine which private international air law scheme will apply to each passengers’ carriage.
There are two main international conventions that govern air carrier liability for international flights such as this, they are known as the Warsaw Convention 1929 and the Montreal Convention 1999 (MC99). For the families of victims of IX-1344, the question of liability as well as the limit will be live issues. For those passengers whose travel could be considered to attract the provisions of the MC99, then the freedom to sue in their home country might be an attractive option given that unlike Warsaw, the Montreal Convention permits passenger actions for death to be brought in the territory the passenger has his or her principal and permanent residence at the time of the accident, as long as some other requirements in relation to connection of the air carrier to that jurisdiction are also met.
Under MC99 the limits on liability for death and injury have risen recently under the escalator clause, Article 24, of the Convention. Revised limits of liability established under Articles 21 and 22 of the Convention, in a currency tied to a basket of currencies known as Special Drawing Rights (SDRs), are effective as of 28 December 2019, as follows:-
Compensation in Case of Death or Injury to Passenger
Original limit (SDRs) 100,000 (approx $141,000 USD)
Revised limit (SDRs) as of 28 December 2019: 128,821 (approx $182,000 USD)
This means that for families who have lost loved ones, compensation may be offered (to compensate proven financial losses) up to 128,821 SDRs without need for proof of fault of the carrier under prevailing air carrier insurance arrangements which should be in place at Air India Express.
More may be available under certain conditions which we can advise on. This money is not available as “of right”.
How IALPG can help
IALPG has a long track record in aviation litigation and claims worldwide and is focused on achieving the best outcomes for families affected by tragedies like Flight IX-1344. We can provide initial assistance about “advance payments” and the like for no charge to families, survivors and next of kin of those who were lost on the flight.
In addition, we have “no win no fee” options wherein no legal fees will be charged unless compensation is secured for the client of more than those USD/SDR figures shown above and work with a strong team of international lawyers.
IALPG’s Legal Practice Director, Joseph Wheeler, is a first generation Australian whose mother is from Kerala, India, and thus culturally aware of the situation of those affected. He was the lead lawyer in a team which resolved the claims of 38 Ukrainian and Russian citizens who lost their lives out of the 55 passengers lost on Flydubai flight FZ981 in March 2016. He has also pursued cases for families affected by the tragic 2014 downing by missile of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine.
IALPG is also pursuing a class action against Boeing with partners at Chicago firm PMJ PLLC in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois on behalf of more than 7,000 Boeing 737 MAX pilots from 13 airlines worldwide, and the remaining global class of MAX pilots, who were financially and socially aggrieved by the issues which led to the grounding of the MAX in March 2019 after the second of two fatal crashes of the MAX (see 1:19-cv-05008 In re: Boeing 737 MAX Pilots Litigation).
For information about compensation or your rights following air crashes contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or +61 7 3040 1099.