Cross-posted in FilipinoVoices.com
Last week, a Zest Airways Xian MA-60 (RP-C8892) with 54 passengers overshot the runway, in a repeat of a similar, more damaging overshoot earlier this year. Unlike the previous incident where 3 of the 25 passengers were injured, no one was hurt . The incident, however, raises serious questions on the safety of the plane Zest Air uses, the airport in question, and the pilots involved in the crash.
The Xian MA-60s used by Zest Airways, a Chinese manufactured copy of the Russian Antonov An-26, a military light transport. Five of these aircraft were delivered in October 2008, and Zest Air placed an additional order of 6 planes last May. With the planes practically brand new (2 and 6 months old, respectively), and with neither Cebu Pacific nor PAL Express suffering similar problems with their comparable aircraft (using the ATR-72 and Bombardier Dash 8, respectively), questions are raised about the safety record of the plane itself.
A check with AviationSafety.Net reveals only 2 incidents with the Xian MA-60, excluding the latest incident but including the incident at Caticlan last January (the page lists 9 incidents including those for the older Xian Y-7, upon which the MA-60 was based). The first incident was with an Air Zimbabwe domestic flight in January 2008, caused by pilot error.
It is then difficult to determine whether the plane’s build quality could be questioned, but having had ridden one in a flight to Busuanga earlier this year, the Xian MA-60 has a peculiarity that I hadn’t noticed when I rode the ATR-72: it brakes really hard. This becomes important when considering that Godofredo P. Ramos Airport at Caticlan has a runway length of only 810 meters.
The length of the runway makes for very harrowing landings, as illustrated by various photos of approaches at the Caticlan airport. On one end of the runway, about 30 meters from its edge is a road (as seen in the crash photo above) frequented by tricycles and jeepneys. On the other end of the runway is a hill. There have been efforts to try and lengthen this runway, unfortunately, thwarted by “political wrangling at the local level”:
Local air carriers have long requested the [Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines] that the runway be lengthened either by extending Runway 06 to the sea or removing a hill at the end of Runway 24.
However the CAAP was not able to carry out the runway improvements because of political wrangling at the local level. [BusinessMirror]
A third angle is, of course, pilot error. In the January incident, the pilot of RP-C8893 undershot the runway and hit the perimeter fence of the runway (clearly visible in the photos shown). In this latest incident, the pilot overshot the runway, after requesting to land despite having a tail wind:
Initial investigation showed that when he asked for landing instructions, the pilot, Capt. Bernard Hervoso, was directed to Runway 06, the “active” runway at the time. However, it was reported that Hervoso requested to use Runway 24 instead.
The request was granted, although it would mean that the airplane would be landing with a tailwind.
Investigators are now verifying eyewitnesses reports that the plane landed almost at the middle of [the] runway. [BusinessMirror]
Only after a full investigation will we be able to get all the facts straight, and determine whether the crash was caused by human error or by safety deficiencies in the aircraft. Considering that there are more than 30 flights in and out of the Godofredo Ramos Airport everyday — being the gateway of Boracay (it is, in fact, the third busiest airport in Western Visayas) — the best long term solution would be to lengthen the runway once and for all. Only then will margins of error for the pilots be large enough to cancel out problems with braking, late touchdowns, or clearing perimeter fences.
We only hope that the government of the Municipality of Malay would care.
Photo of engine nacelle and propeller copyright the author, all rights reserved. Photo of Zest Airways RP-C8892 and Cebu Pacific RP-C7250 before touchdown at Godofredo P. Ramos Airport by Ryan Hemmings via Airliners.Net. Photo of RP-C8892 crashed in ditch by user MapLand of 101today.com/travel.