Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri on Monday criticised Congress leaders over their allegations that the Centre had ignored safety concerns raised by experts about the Karipur International Airport in Kerala, where at least 18 people died as an airplane overshot the runway last week. Puri referred to the accusations as irresponsible and mischievous.

“A fact check is recommended for individuals who for sake of media attention have made several statements on the Kozhikode tragedy in which 18 precious human lives were lost,” Puri wrote on Twitter, along with screenshots of tweets by Congress MP Manicka Tagore. In his tweets, Tagore had accused Puri of not reaching the spot of the accident on time and ignoring experts’ recommendation to install a Engineered Material Arrestor System at the airport. The system is built at the end of a runway to reduce the impact of an overrun.

Puri added that two other Congress MPs – Shashi Tharoor and Ravneet Singh – had resorted to “excited tweeting” without verifying facts related to the accident. “MP Ravneet Bittu did not know the difference between a narrow body aircraft and a wide bodied one yet he tweeted as an expert on the subject!” Puri said. “He did well by deleting his tweet.”

“I am glad that my friend Shashi Tharoor has checked the facts and changed his tune yesterday,” Puri added. “But Manick Tagore stands out with his astounding lack of awareness. For starters, he wanted me to go to Kozhikode when I was already on my way! Such was his desire for media attention that he did not study the basic facts before turning into an aviation security and protocol expert. Visits of ministers should be timed in a way that they do not hamper relief and rescue operations by professional agencies.”

The civil aviation minister said that the airport was equipped with safety measures as per the International Civil Aviation Organization’s guidelines. “The Kozhikode airport is equipped with Runway End Safety Area,” he said. “Engineered Material Arrestor System (EMAS) provides safety benefit if less than standard RESA length is available or at Airports where RESA cannot be provided due to constraints.”

Puri added that experts were looking into the accident and will submit certain recommendations to the Centre soon. “The Ministry of Civil Aviation is open to all suggestions when the report is received,” he said.

At least 18 people, including two pilots, were killed and over 100 injured on Friday after Air India’s Boeing-737 flight from Dubai, repatriating Indians stranded due to the coronavirus pandemic, overshot the airport’s table-top runway amid heavy rain, tumbled into a valley and split into half. The plane was carrying 190 passengers and crew.

A report on aviation safety submitted to the Ministry of Civil Aviation in 2011, revealed the runway at the Calicut International Airport was unsafe for flight operations due to inadequate safety area along the runway and at the end of it to stop planes from skidding off. Other experts said that the government did not act to address the safety concerns.

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