October 3, 2007

Permission to land

Photo: La Prensa

The right engine of a Honduran national Atlantic Airlines flight (Spanish) from Tegucigalpa to San Pedro Sula exploded and caught on fire about 10 minutes after take off on September 27. Requiring an emergency landing, the pilot radioed the nearest airport, the Soto Cano de Palmerola air force base in Comayagua, for permission to land.

The answer was negative.

Although he was close enough to see the runway, the pilot was informed that the airport was closed due to meteorological reasons so he had to turn the plane around and return to Tegucigalpa. The Tegucigalpa airport is one of the most difficult in which to land in the world and is surrounded by a heavily populated area, not a good place for a plane with engine problems to land. Luckily, the plane landed without incident.

The Soto Cano air force base is a joint base of U.S. and Honduran forces. The initial report insinuated that the denial of permission to land came from the U.S. officials. Ambassador to Honduras, Charles Ford, was quick to point out that the control tower is managed by the Honduran Air Force and that was confirmed by the Commander General of the Air Force, who was out of the country at the time.

Later, further clarifications were provided, among others that the controller didn't have meteorological support, and visibility was poor and that could have resulted in a disaster......

The pilot stated that this
isn't the first time (Spanish) this has happened, that once before he was in a similar condition and was denied permission to land because, he was told, Soto Cano was only for military use. He also said that a few months ago, a plane full of deportees from the U.S. declared an emergency and was also denied permission to land.

National Congress demanded an investigation. (Spanish) One diputado (congressman) from Comayagua stated with certainty that there was no problem with visibility that morning. The investigation is being performed by Honduran Civil Aeronautics and the results are expected in 15 days.

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