By Namini Wijedasa
Despite three months’ renovation work which disrupted airline schedules, the Civil Aviation Authority of Sri Lanka (CAASL) will not upgrade the Bandaranaike International Airport’s runway in accordance with the International Civil Aviation Organisation-accepted classification for runways capable of accommodating new large aircraft such as A380s.
Notwithstanding its recent widening at a cost of US$ 50 million, the BIA runway will remain Code E or one that can facilitate aircraft with a wingspan of more than 52 metres but less than 65 metres. The A380 aircraft has a wingspan of more than 80 metres. This is because the width of the core runway at BIA is still 45m and it was only the “shoulders” on either side that were extended during the renovation work.
In media announcements, Airport and Aviation Services (Sri Lanka) Ltd bizarrely claimed that the BIA’s upgraded runway was a “modified Code F”. Such classification does not exist anywhere in International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) literature, which only refers to Code E or Code F runways. The Ministry of Civil Aviation has repeatedly said the BIA runway was capable of accommodating the A380.
A Code F runway requires a core runway of 60m–and not 45m–with adequate strength to bear the weight and pressure of new large aircraft. It should also have inset runway edge lights (the BIA runway has elevated edge lights) and ‘shoulders’ with adequate bearing strength to provide an overall runway and shoulder width of 75m. It must also have additional runway centre line guidance.
The BIA’s renovated runway is 45m with shoulders on either side of 15m each. Therefore, while the total runway is 75m in width, it does not qualify for Code F classification. Gnanasiri Withanage, the Head of AASL Civil Engineering, claimed that “modified Code F” — a term that appeared in promotional material for the new runway — was used in the construction industry. He, however, admitted that the upgraded BIA runway would remain Code E – which it was prior to the renovation work, with only a facility to operate A380 or other Code F aircraft.
Therefore, the Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP) for BIA will specify that the runway is Code E — but contain a note stating that it is compliant with A380 operation. This is in stark contrast to the Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport (MRIA) which has a Code F runway suitable to accommodate scheduled A380 and new large aircraft operations.
CAASL sources confirmed that airport authorities had hoped for a Code F classification for the BIA runway. But it would have been impossible to grant it under prevailing specifications. Even the runway edge lights at BIA are installed at 45m. (Edge lights are used to outline the edges of runways during period of darkness or restricted visibility).
“You cannot have edge lights at 45m for a scheduled A380 operation,” said an aviation expert, requesting anonymity. “It is possible under duress, as we have seen Emirates do in the past. And what is ‘modified Code F’? This term is not used by ICAO, the world body entrusted to ensure that air safety standards are not compromised by States doing as they please at their international airports. Sri Lanka, which has accepted the ICAO, is required to conform to standards prepared over decades, including those for runways.”
“What is required for A380s to operate to BIA is a Code F runway,” he continued. “There are no other codes recognised by ICAO that has features better than Code E yet less than what a Code F runway has to achieve. The requirements to be met when an airport operator wishes to refurbish a runway to transit from Code E to Code F are clearly laid out in a June 2004 ICAO document titled ‘Operation of NLAs at Existing Aerodromes’.”
Earlier this week, (April 3), an article was published under the name of the AASL Marketing Manager. The article “celebrated” how well the repairs to the BIA runway had been carried out. It mentioned the new phrase ‘modified Code F’.