Is Runway 34 Based on a True Story?

Directed by Ajay Devgn, ‘Runway 34’ is an Indian thriller film about a flight in peril. Captain Vikrant Khanna (Ajay Devgn) is a cocky pilot with skills to boost his ego. However, things take a drastic turn after a disastrous flight commandeered by Vikram that puts 150 passengers at risk. Following the incident, Vikram and First Officer Tanya Albuquerque (Rakul Preet Singh) are investigated by Narayan Vedant (Amitabh Bachchan), who is determined to get to the bottom of the tragedy.

Narayan’s encounters with Vikram do not inspire much confidence in the investigator, who is not shy about sharing his opinions with others. The people affected by the flight want answers of their own. The movie presents a thrilling story with intriguing characters and accurate details. If the film has piqued your interest and left you wondering about whether it is all fiction or has some kernels of truth in it, we have all you need to know!

Is Runway 34 a True Story?

Yes, ‘Runway 34’ is based on a true story. The movie’s story parallels the incident on August 18, 2015, at Cochin International Airport, Kochi, India. During the early morning hours, the Jet Airways flight 9W 555 from Doha, the Capital of Qatar, reached its destination at 5:45 AM. However, given the low visibility due to recent rain, the flight was not allowed to land.

Image Credit: CIAL

At its arrival in Kochi airspace, the flight carrying 141 passengers and 8 crew members had 4,844 kg of fuel. The flight made three attempts to land on the runway but was denied each time due to the visibility conditions. With each go-around, the plane’s fuel went down to 4,699 kg, 3,919 kg, and then 2,644 kg of fuel. After the final landing attempt in Kochi, Jet Airways re-routed the flight to Thiruvananthapuram, India.

Ideally, the flight should have diverted to Bengaluru, India. However, the fuel necessary to reach the Karnataka capital for a Boeing 737–800 plane is 3,306 kg. Hence, this led to the unusual diversion to Thiruvananthapuram with just 2,644 kg of fuel. However, things got complicated after reaching Thiruvananthapuram International Airport, formerly Trivandrum International Airport.

Given the proximity of both cities, the visibility conditions in Thiruvananthapuram were not much better than in Kochi. After reaching the airport, the flight was denied landing and left with only 1,324 kg of fuel left. The pilots declared “May Day” and had to take two more go-arounds, each reducing the fuel amount to 898 kg and then 662 kg. 

The situation now had become horrifyingly fatal. During the seventh attempt at landing, the fourth in Thiruvananthapuram, the flight captain ignored the warnings and landed the plane blindly. “The aircraft took a 180-degree turn at the very low height setting off the alarms,” an official shared. Fortunately, no one was harmed during the ordeal. The captain’s actions sparked controversy amongst the safety officials and media since a blind landing can turn into a horrifying disaster.

Upon investigating, it was found that the plane had only 349 kg of fuel after landing, contrary to the minimum ideal amount of 1,500 kg. The aircraft requires at least 240 kg of fuel to taxi for just ten minutes. “The plane would have fallen like a stone if it hadn’t been able to land in a few more minutes,” a Civil Aviation official shared.

The Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) revealed the conversation between the flight’s captain and the first officer. “Do you know where it (runway) is?” the first officer asked. The captain replied, “Just going blindly.” As a result of his actions, the captain was demoted to the rank of co-pilot. Opinions of his actions are varied among the people. Some hail the captain as a skilled hero, while others denounce his actions as reckless and dangerous.

The Jet Airways company to which the flight belonged also fell under the scrutiny of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, who investigated the reasons behind the unprecedented diversion of the fuel crisis. “We are reviewing the fuel uplift policy of Jet Airways to check that the right amount of fuel is filled on aircraft and that there are no cuts being made on that front,” a senior official shared.

The company released a statement saying, “This is as per the standard operating safety procedure. The flight landing with 141 guests was uneventful. At Jet Airways safety is of paramount importance, and to this end, planning of flight operations are conducted with a very high level of safety. This includes a fuel uplift that not only meets all regulatory requirements, it has additional buffers to cater to unexpected scenarios including poor weather at the alternate airport.”

The Kochi incident inspired the makers of ‘Runway 34.’ The movie follows the fallout from the flight although some factors have been changed for the purpose of dramatization and storytelling. However, it is safe to say that the realism provided by the Ajay Devgn movie can be attributed to the events that occurred 7 years before its release.

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