Plea on EMAS at airports: SC tells Centre to address it

New Delhi, April 12 (IANS) The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre to address the concerns raised in a plea claiming there was a deliberate omission for years to install Engineered Materials Arrestor System (EMAS) at airports, which prevent aircrafts from overshooting runways at vulnerable airports such as Mangaluru and Kozhikode.

A bench headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde and comprising Justices A.S. Bopanna and V. Ramasubramanian told the Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, “This is a matter of public interest. Why don’t you address it?” The bench added that according to experts’ airports like Mangalore has become very dangerous to land. “Please consider this PIL as a representation and give him a patient hearing, consider his suggestions”, the bench told Bhati. The Centre’s counsel agreed to examine the bench’s suggestion. After a brief hearing in the matter, the top court listed the matter for further hearing after two months.

On February 16, the top court asked the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Ministry of Civil Aviation to reply within two weeks on the plea.

The top court had then told Centre’s counsel: “People are trapped in the aircraft, it is a horrible site. Please look into it.”

In September last year, the bench had issued notice to the ministry and DGCA on a plea by a Delhi resident Rajen Mehta, who is an 85-year-old retired engineer. The plea has been filed through advocate Shohit Chaudhry.

The plea sought installation of EMAS at the airports considered vulnerable and cited the August 7 accident at Calicut International Airport and May 22, 2010 at Mangalore. Both these airports have table-top runways. The petitioner contended if EMAS were to be installed, it could have helped in averting the plane crash.

“The existence of EMAS was brought to the knowledge of Air Authority of India (AAI) and the respondents (DGCA and Civil Aviation Ministry) in 2008. However, for no plausible reason, it has not been installed till date.”, said the plea.

The petitioner argued that the aviation industry has seen two horrific incidents at Mangalore and Calicut causing loss of hundreds of lives, which could have been saved by the timely action of the authorities concerned. The plea pointed out EMAS has been installed at 125 airports across the globe. The petitioner also sought an inquiry into delay in installation of EMAS, despite prior knowledge on the airports which are vulnerable, and insisted that criminal action should be taken against people responsible. “On May 22, 2010, a Boeing 737-800 passenger jet operating Air India Express Flight 812 from Dubai to Mangalore … crashed on landing at Mangalore Airport, resulting in the death of 158 persons,” said the plea.

The petitioner said the EMAS system was an arrestor bed of crushable material, like concrete blocks, placed at the end of a runway to stop an aircraft from overshooting. “In 2008, due to the extreme economic crisis, the Calicut (Kozhikode) EMAS project was put in abeyance”, the petition said.