Runway cracks raise safety concern at TIA

Kathmandu, July 11

Pathetic runway conditions and sub-standard maintenance work have come back to haunt the country’s sole international airport once again at the peak of summer heat.

Tribhuvan International airport has developed cracks and potholes on its sole runway, affecting many incoming and outbound flights, according to eyewitnesses.

“The TIA was closed from 2:50pm to 3:15pm after its runway developed a number of cracks near the southern end between Delta and Echo markings today,” TIA Spokesperson Prem Nath Thakur said, adding, “A number of domestic and international flights were put on hold for over half an hour.”

It has now become a routine affair since a few days, Thakur admitted, adding that the authority has no option than to announce closure of the airport on radio telephony for maintenance when the cracks started to appear there. However, contrary to international practices, TIA is desisting from issuing Notices to Airmen (NOTAMS), a type of formal notification to airmen, on runway closure for fear of bringing a bad name to TIA,  little realising that the foreign airline’s flight crew reporting the issue back to their headquarters is essentially having the same effect.

Delay in implementing the runway overlay project has resulted into such mess, an official said, claiming that the TIA management was not serious about addressing the problem. The rutting on the surface is being caused by the high impact load exerted by the aircraft on the pavement during these days, according to him.

The TIA, a certificated aerodrome, essentially meaning all the activities are well documented, strangely does not possess a formal pavement repair manual listing the detailed procedures for carrying out maintenance and the critical task is delegated to half-trained contractor’s labourers without any qualified pavement specialist from Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal doing supervision and quality assurance, said an international airlines station manager.

A study report from the Ayesa Ingenieria Arquitectura of Spain and Aéroports De Paris Ingénierie of France has already revealed that the runway is not enough to handle wide-body aircraft due to its aging asphalt foundation.

Overlay of hot mixed asphalt concrete could only prevent rutting on the surface during hot summer days, Thakur informed. “It’s still uncertain when the overlay work will start,” he added.

However, senior civil engineers at CAAN who used their post-graduate qualifications to rise to the top ranks have turned their backs to this engineering problem at hand and are content handling multi-billion rupee projects as project directors using political clout, rather than putting their knowledge to actual work by getting their hands dirty at the job for which they were first hired, a senior officer at the aviation regulatory body reacted.