KUALA LUMPUR: At exactly 4.50pm local time on Oct 7, the Royal Malaysian Air Force's (RMAF) Airbus A400M aircraft landed at the Mutiara SIS Al-Jufrie Airport, Palu, in Central Sulawesi.
To manually land a large aircraft on an earthquake-damaged runway, guided only by a temporary control tower is not an easy task, and not all pilots dare take the risk.
"The fear is definitely there, but I am confident with the ability of the Airbus A400M aircraft which has been designed for short distance landing even with heavy loads," said the Commanding Officer of the No 22 Squadron, Lt Col Baharin Mohamad, who piloted the aircraft.
For the first time, Baharin, along with assistant pilot, Major Inamul Hasan Shuhaimi Basha, successfully landed the aircraft with a 17-tonne oil tanker and other disaster relief items onboard, a new milestone for the RMAF.
He said the Airbus A400M aircraft was not only designed to carry heavy loads, but was also built to land and take off on a short runway, such as the one at Mutiara SIS Al-Jufrie Airport.
The airport's runway is 2,500m long, but due to the earthquake, only about 2,000m can be used. Facilities to ensure a safe landing are also limited, so the pilot needs to land manually.
According to Baharin, at first, the aircraft was only allowed to carry cargo from the Halim Perdana Kusuma Air Base in Jakarta to the Sultan Aji Muhammad Sulaiman Airport in Balikpapan, Kalimantan.
However, after convincing the Indonesian authorities that the aircraft would be able to land safely on the short airstrip, they were allowed to go straight to Palu.
"We also managed a second landing, this time with a load of about 22 tonnes, which included an excavator, the heaviest load ever flown by RMAF's aircraft so far," he added.
With a take-off weight of between 120-130 tonnes, the Airbus A400M aircraft requires a 1000m long runway for take-off and an additional 200m for landing.
The week-long humanitarian aid mission to Palu in Sulawesi, which began on Oct 4, involved 23 crew members, two RMAF media personnel and three members of the local media.
Malaysia is the first Asian country to purchase the Airbus A400M, which is also used by France, Germany, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
On Sept 28, a powerful earthquake measuring 7.7 on the Richter scale shook Palu and Donggala in Central Sulawesi, and it was followed by a tsunami with waves up to 3m high.
More than 2,000 people were killed and over 30,000 were left homeless. — Bernama [...]