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ATC must rise from its slumber

Today, this newspaper has reported how an air traffic controller at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai nearly caused a massive accident involving a collision between two planes that may have ended up being on the same runway. On August 9, this air traffic controller cleared a Jet Airways plane to be taken to the maintenance bay. At the same time, he had allowed an Etihad international flight to land on the same runway.

It is a miracle that the Jet Airways pilot realised the error and called up the ATC, which then asked the Etihad pilot to go around.

This is not an isolated incident. The Mumbai ATC is notorious for its incompetence. In the past, as this newspaper has reported, it “forgot” to preserve important data related to two mid-air near-miss incidents. These incidents took place on February 8 and March 12 this year.

They blamed “miscommunication” for the lapse when the Directorate General of Civil Aviation pulled them up.

In 2009, when a fleet of helicopters ferrying the then Indian President Pratibha Patil witnessed a near miss with an Air India aircraft, the then Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major blamed the ATC Mumbai for the major lapse that could have resulted in the death of the head of state.

The Mumbai ATC cannot absolve itself of accountability in any of these cases. To say that safe air travel is one of the fundamental needs of a modern society is to state the obvious. But the Mumbai ATC seems oblivious to this.

The civil aviation ministry has a huge responsibility in not only ensuring an important transportation sector, but also to ensure that those using air travel need to be safe at all times. Any dip in confidence would have repercussions on Mumbai as a business and travel destination. At this point in time, this city nor this country can afford to be in such a situation. 

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