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Runway overruns ‘happen quite often’: Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker

The Age, 11 December 2015
Akbar Al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, which is doubling its flights to and from Australia next year, has claimed runway overrun incidents like one that damaged one of his airline’s Boeing 777s upon take-off from Miami in September “happen quite often”.

A preliminary report into the Miami incident by the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority this week found the runway overrun left a 46 centimetre tear in the aircraft’s fuselage, which breached the pressure vessel as well as numerous dents and scratches in the airframe with 18 square metres of damaged skin.

There were 90 individual areas of damage requiring assessment and fixing, as well as some damage to a metal guard on the left landing gear. In addition, there was damage to three of the runway approach lights at Miami International Airport which the aircraft clipped upon take-off before completing its 13.5 hour flight to Doha, Qatar and arriving with damage to the airframe.

The report found the aircraft, with four pilots in the cockpit, had mistakenly taken off using only part of the runway as they entered via a taxiway due to a misreading of information on a tablet computer. Around 1000 metres of the runway was behind them, and the recorded data from the aircraft showed they overran the runway by nearly 300 metres upon take-off but flew on to Doha, apparently oblivious to the damage.

But Mr Al Baker, rather than taking responsibility for the incident and committing to fixing the airline’s procedures, on Wednesday told reporters it was the fault of air traffic control rather than the pilots – in direct contradiction of the report.

According to Flightglobal, he also said: “Such kind of incidents happen quite often, either it is a tail strike on the runway or it is contact with the landing lights.”

On the Professional Pilots Rumour Network online forum, the reaction to Mr Al Baker’s comments were scathing.

“This is probably the scariest thing I have seen in aviation in years,” one poster said. “An admittance that practices are not just poor but dangerous to anybody travelling.”

A second person’s post said: “Oh yes… Super normal to overrun the runway and take some approach lights with you. Happens every day. Dangerous? Of course not! A perfectly calculated manoeuvre!”

Runway overruns are a relatively rare occurrence in commercial aviation and in some cases have proven deadly. International Air Transport Association data shows there were 98 runway or taxiway excursion accidents between 2009 and 2013 out of millions of commercial flights during those years. Of those incidents, seven resulted in fatalities, with 191 passenger and crew deaths in total.

In 2009, an Emirates A340 with 18 crew and 257 passengers overran the end of the runway at Melbourne Airport after using incorrect take-off performance parameters. The aircraft became airborne but struck a light and damaged the airport’s instrument landing system before returning for an emergency landing. As a result of the accident, which heavily damaged the aircraft, Emirates took a number of actions to improve its safety procedures.

Qatar, which already flies to Melbourne and Perth from its Doha hub, has announced plans to launch flights to Sydney and Adelaide next year as it looks to better compete against rivals Emirates and Etihad Airways in the local market.

Qatar has won industry accolades for the quality of its in-flight product, but it has also drawn the ire of unions around the globe for its workplace policies. Until this year that included firing female employees who got married or became pregnant within the first five years of their employment. Another concern for staff is a mandatory 12-hour rest rule before shifts, which the company enforces by monitoring employees in company housing, according to Bloomberg.