Air India Flight Lands 136 Passengers On Unfinished Runway

Velana International Airport (MLE) of the Maldives is currently constructing a new runway to handle larger aircraft and more flights. Unfortunately, on Friday a couple of Air India pilots accidentally landed on the new runway, mistaking it for the smaller runway 18.

The Flight

Air India flight 263 was supposed to take 136 passengers and 7 crew from Thiruvananthapuram in India to Male in the Maldives without incident. However, at around 15:30 local time the aircraft landed on the runway under construction. The new runway is parallel to the existing runway, and measures 10,500ft long.

While no passengers were injured during the landing, the aircraft suffered some damage. The tyres and brakes sustained a decent amount of damage, meaning the aircraft will need to be repaired. In addition, images of the incident posted on Twitter appear to show a large tarpaulin tangled in left main landing gear.

NOTAM

The incident does raise questions about Velana International’s handling of of pilot notifications of the runway under construction. The current aeronautical charts of the airport make no reference to the runway under construction. A NOTAM was however issued regarding the runway. It stated “PAVEMENT AND ASPHALT LAYING WIP ON NEW RWY AND TWY APRX 190M TO THE EAST OF THE EXISTING RWY18/36 CENTRELINE. NEW RWY AND TWY MARKED AS CLSD AS NEW RWY IS VISIBLE. PILOTS TO EXER CTN.”

While pilots should always be fully prepared for their flight before hand, it could be possible that due to the pressure of landing, the pilots could have forgotten about the runway, especially as they had the charts in front of them.

Aerial Runway Layout
The new runway seen next to adjacent runway 18. Image: Google

Young Aircraft

The A320 in question is registered as VT-EXL. It made its first flight on 12th December 2017, being delivered to Air India on the 21st December the same year. Although fairly young, the aircraft will already be more expensive for the airline than its fellow A320s, as the repair will not come cheap. Given the airport’s remote location it is likely that parts needed will be required to be flown in at significant expense.

Flight Radar AI Runway
Data from FlightRadar24 shows that the aircraft landed on the wrong runway before being towed to a maintenance facility. Image: FlightRadar24

Incident Response

Following the incident, both of the pilots have been de-rostered. This means that they are effectively on administrative leave. This is a common practice following any sort of incident while an investigation is underway. However, it is alarming that this is the second time in just over a month that an Indian carrier has tried to takeoff or land while not on the correct runway. On August 3rd, a Jet Airways B737 attempted to take off from a taxiway adjacent to its assigned runway. The aircraft went off of the paved area of the taxiway and got stuck. Thankfully all 150 people onboard during that incident were unharmed. Additionally, last week a Russian B737 overshot a runway while landing in poor weather.

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