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'Miscommunication' or destruction of evidence?

It has been learnt that visual and audio recordings of two air incidents under investigation by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) were not saved by the Air Traffic Control (ATC), Mumbai.

The two incidents occurred on February 8 and March 12 this year. MiD DAY has obtained documents that raise serious questions about the work culture of the Mumbai ATC, which shirked its responsibility by failing to ask the concerned department to preserve the tapes.

When asked to produce them, it vaguely blamed a ‘miscommunication’ for the lapse. At a meeting conducted under the chairmanship of Sanjay Bramhane, the deputy director for air safety of the DGCA on May 7, a total of six air incidents that occurred between February 7-April 19, 2012, were discussed.

During the meeting, the DGCA asked for audio and video data recorded of two of these six incidents, which occurred on February 8 and March 22. The replay of the two incidents was scheduled for June 12.

However, officials failed to turn up for the replay, which then had to be postponed. On June 14, Bramhane received a mail from the Joint General Manager of the ATC, A K Meena which took him by surprise.

He mentioned that the tapes related to the two different cases had not been preserved owing to the ‘miscommunication’ of his own department.
“Incident of go-around of JLL 176 at Mumbai on March 22, 2012, could not be arranged as the automation as well as the VHF data pertaining to the incident was not available after 60 days, as it was not preserved due to miscommunication by ATM-SQMS. It is also submitted that data pertaining to the go-around of IGO 418 at Mumbai on February 8, 2012, could not be preserved due to the same reason.”

Evidence destroyed?
In course of the investigations made into the matter, the Air Safety Directorate of DGCA, Delhi, said that the ATC’s act was a willful attempt to destroy crucial evidence, as it had not asked the concerned department, the CNS, (Communication, Navigation & Surveillance) to preserve the tapes immediately after the incidents. Unless such instructions are issued, all recorded data from flights are erased after 60 days.

According to the existing guidelines, the ATC General Manager (GM) should send an intra-office note to the CNS GM in order to request the preservation and sealing of records, both audio and video, after which they are saved till investigations end. These guidelines were not followed by the GM of the ATC office.

It has also been revealed in course of investigations that an assistant manager from the ATC department is being made a scape goat in the matter. Though he is being blamed for the slip up, he has no jurisdiction to request for preservation of tapes. Only one GM can issue such an order to another.

Officialspeak
When contacted, Bramhane, who is personally investigating the matter, told MiD DAY, “A preliminary report has also been sent to the DG office in Delhi.”

Meena refused to comment. “I am not allowed to speak on the subject. You can contact the official spokesperson of AAI in Delhi for the comment,” he said.

J Dasgupta, GM, ATC, Mumbai, said, “The person who informed you about the incident would be in a better position to explain. You also ask DGCA how important the data is for the investigations, as the matter is being investigated by them.”

GM of CNS, S Bhattacharya refused to comment. DGCA Chief, E K Bharatbhushan was unavailable for comment on the issue.

The two cases
Case I
On February 8, when Nagpur-Mumbai Indigo Airlines flight 418 was told to continue approach for landing while Jet Airways flight 2034 Mumbai-Goa took off. The ATC gave instructions to the Jet pilot for take off, but the latter didn’t respond. The ATC controller did not repeat the instruction for take off, neither did she notice that the aircraft has not started rolling out of the runway. 

In the meantime, the Indigo aircraft came closer. Realising late that the Jet aircraft hadn’t taken off, the Indigo Pilot, which was very close to the runway, decided to pull up and go around. It was less than two miles from the landing. The entire matter was allegedly caused by the controller’s error.

Case II
The second incident was reported on March 22, when Nagpur-Mumbai Jet Lite flight 176 had to pull up when Mumbai-Udaipur Jet Airways flight 2073 could not take off on time. The flight could not depart because another Jet flight 2534 from Bhuj did not clear the runway after landing. This incident too was allegedly caused by the controller’s ill-timed decision to reissue take-off clearance. 

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