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Takeoff, landing mishaps on rise
Published on 25 May. 2009 12:12 AM IST
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In the last one year, four flights--two of SpiceJet, one of Jetlite and one of GoAir--landed on runways that were closed for repairs. As the aircraft touched down on the wrong runway, the workers running repairs ran away in alarm and, each time, a generous stroke of luck ensured that the plane came to a halt safely. Also, in the last one year, four flights--two of Air India, one of SpiceJet and one of Kingfisher Airlines--made turbulent landings. In some cases, the wing of the jet speeding at about 230-240 kmph grazed the ground, at other times the empennage or the tail-end of the aircraft thumped into the runway during touchdown. Last month, a Kingfisher Airlines flight veered off the runway, damaging ten runway-edge lights while landing in Bangalore amid rain and heavy winds. The 2007 monsoon saw seven such incidents, two of which were so serious that the aircraft were damaged beyond repair. For the last three years, the number of accidents/incidents taking place during a landing or a take-off-- involving Indian carriers at Indian airports--has been on a steady rise, the Times of India reported on its website on Sunday. The reasons include a range of factors like cockpit crew fatigue, relaxed aircraft maintenance norms in India, dearth of DGCA flight safety inspectors, pilots put under pressure by airlines to operate flights even in difficult conditions, poor training and inaction by the DGCA (Director General of Civil Aviation). “The increase in the number of incidents and accidents is due to the lack of proper training and safety oversight. Commercial interests have overridden the safety interest. Aviation safety experts worldwide are concerned about the increase in the number of runway overruns and excursions,” says Capt Mohan Ranganathan, an air safety expert. He alluded specifically to the need for transparency. “The Alliance Air crash in Patna in 2000 killed 55. But the DGCA website for accident/incident data shows nil aircrashes for airlines. Investigation reports are meant for everyone to learn from experience and prevent a future occurrence. Unfortunately, people want to believe that everything is hunky dory,” he adds. In India, air accidents/incidents are investigated by the DGCA, which is the civil aviation regulatory authority. For long, aviation observers have demanded an independent investigation authority, like the US’s National Transport and Safety Board (NTSB), for instance. “The NTSB last year hauled up the Federal Aviation Authority, the US civil aviation authority, for not initiating timely action against an airline which had flouted air safety norms,” notes a senior commander. The Indian Pilots Guild, a union of Air India pilots, endorses this. “The Commission of Railway Safety, which looks into rail accidents, for the sake of impartiality comes under the ministry of civil aviation. Aviation too should have an independent body,” says an Indian Pilots Guild spokesperson. What civil aviation has is the National Air Safety Board that was formed by the DGCA in January 2008 and is not independent. The board, comprising members of the DGCA, various airlines and charter operators, is supposed to meet at least four times a year. “It has scarcely met in the last one year to discuss issues related to commercial airlines,” said a source. Capt R S Otaal, general secretary of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association, says a majority of these cases was related to crew fatigue. “The number of incidents/accidents has been on the rise after scientifically-backed rest rules for pilots were put in abeyance last year,” he says, adding that with the onset of the monsoon, work-in-progress runways and short ones like those at airports like Vadodara, Raipur, Rajkot, Jammu andBhopal become dangerous. It’s also no secret in the aviation community that rest rules for pilots are often violated and commercial interests override bad weather in deciding whether a flight should land or not. Multi-leg flights, like a Mumbai-Nagpur-Raipur-Kolkata one for instance, are a case in point. “Last year, on one of these flights, Nagpur had bad weather with strong cross-winds. The commander tried to land, but did a go around as the aircraft was rocking badly. He managed to land at the second attempt. What he should have done was divert the flight. But then he would have had to go back to Nagpur and continue with two other flights, which would be stressful. Such forced decisions are sure-shot recipes for disaster,” says a senior airline commander. “The International Civil Aviation Organisation, the FAA and the European Union are seriously concerned about the lack of qualified manpower and lack of proper safety oversight in aviation in India. The government can overcome these objections using diplomatic channels but they will not be in a position to prevent a major accident, which could be round the corner unless we have a transparent and honest system. Temporary measures will never find a permanent solution,” says Capt Ranganathan.

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