Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Philippines - Disabled plane closes NAIA runway

Philippines - NINOY AQUINO INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT – The airport management was forced to temporarily close the main runway Sunday evening after a twin-jet aircraft got stuck when one of its tires suddenly blew up while preparing for take off. As a result, 14 flights had to be diverted to the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Pampanga and to the Mactan/Cebu International Airport.

The Westwind2 twin-jet air ambulance belonging to CareJet, a medivac company based in Guam, lined up for take-off on Runway 24 at 8:18 pm. As it powered-up to gain speed, its left landing gear suddenly blew up and exposed the metal rim causing sparks to fly all over and setting the wheels on fire. As this happened, the flight crew, identified as Capt. Charles Cooper and Capt. Toshihiro Shima, brought the aircraft to an abrupt stop, jumped out of the aircraft and put out the fire using a fire extinguisher.

Airport emergency workers rushed to the disabled aircraft, which stopped some 200 meters from the take-off point, and assisted the airplane crew to completely put out the fire using chemical foam.

Both crew and the two Intensive Care Unit nurses, Matthew Keith and Eunice Neil, all got out of the incident unscathed.

With the aircraft blocking the main runway, the runway had to be closed with the air traffic controllers immediately releasing a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) about the disabled aircraft. As a result, 14 arriving flights from international and domestic destinations had to be diverted to other airports in the country.

Seven international and six domestic flights were diverted to the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport in Pampanga while one PAL domestic flight was diverted to Cebu. The diverted flights included those from Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Continental Airlines, Royal Brunei Airways and Emirates Airlines. 28 other domestic flights were delayed as a result of the temporary runway closure.

Airport assistant general manager for Operations Octavio Lina disclosed that the plane recovery team had a hard time removing the aircraft from the runway because they lacked the necessary equipment to lift the airplane.

According to Lina, the airport management has the necessary recovery tools but only for aircraft types that are normally found in the country.

The Operations chief disclosed that the medivac aircraft was specially designed with an extremely low profile for easy egress and ingress making all of their tools unusable. It was learned that even the pneumatic lifting bags, which are normally placed under the wing and then inflated to raise a plane, proved useless as the bags were too big for the aircraft. The special axel jack was also too big for the type of aircraft and could not fit underneath the wheels to be lifted.

Finally, borrowing a forklift from a nearby hangar, the recovery team was finally able to lift the aircraft, place it on skates and tow it to a nearby aircraft maintenance hangar—clearing the runway by 11 pm.

An airport official said he will recommend to airport authorities the purchase of more aircraft recovery tools to considerably lessen the time it takes airport workers to clear the runway of any disabled aircraft. The equipment will include newer jacking and towing tools including an overhead crane with slings.

The airport official added that they will also try to decongest the airport runway by pushing earlier plans of moving General Aviation flights to nearby airports in Batangas, Cavite, or Pampanga.

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