Indian air minister pledges safer Gulf flights

India's newly appointed civil aviation minister promises that safety is a priority for flights from the Gulf following the Air India Express crash that killed 158 people in May.

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DUBAI // India's newly appointed civil aviation minister has promised to make safety a priority for flights from the Gulf and closely examine the findings of an investigation into the May 22 Air India Express crash that killed 158 people.

Vayalar Ravi, who was appointed last Wednesday, hinted yesterday that the problem could lie with the airport format itself.

The Mangalore Bajpe airport has a table-top landing area, meaning that it is on a hill surrounded by deep gorges on all sides.

"This is not because of a mistake of the airport staff or the communication system," Mr Ravi said. "However the table-top landing is a problem. This is something the ministry will elaborate discussion on.

"Safety is one of my priorities as far as Air India is concerned and airports are concerned," he said. "Definitely I will discuss the report and introduce some solutions, but safety is an issue of regular monitoring."

The report has not yet been made public, but a leaked copy was circulated to Indian media.

The pilot, Zlatko Glusica, was blamed for being asleep for half the flight and waking up disorientated and unable to land the plane safely. The Serbian Pilot's Association defended Mr Glusica, saying he had been overworked by his employer.

That suggestion was dismissed by Mr Ravi at a press conference at the Indian High School in Dubai, where he attended Republic Day celebrations. "If they don't sleep when they are supposed to, what can I do?" he said. "I can't come and look at whether they are sleeping or not."

Mr Ravi, also the minister for overseas affairs said a full copy of the report, drawn up by a six-member panel including India's Civil Aviation Authority, would be publicly available at a later date.

A spokesman for Air India could not be reached for comment yesterday, however officials have maintained that the copy leaked to the press was incomplete, and they denied that the pilot was asleep.

Mr Glusica attempted to take off shortly after landing, despite having only 244 metres left of the 2.4km runway.

"We don't have runway left," his co-pilot, HS Ahluwalia, warned him.

The plane crashed through the barrier at the edge of the runway and plunged into the valley below.