Did AI risk 250 lives with damaged aircraft?

Jul 25, 2012, 06:55 IST | Bipin Kumar Singh

Plane impaired by turbulence on July 5, as reported, was allegedly used four hours later to ferry 250 passengers back to the Capital

What do you expect an airline’s priority to be after discovering that one of its recent flights experienced turbulence, leading to damage to the plane and injuries to passengers, and that the pilot allegedly did not inform the company or aviation regulator and instead ordered crewmembers to stay mum? Find out who leaked the information to the media. After MiD DAY’s exposé on July 24 (‘Maharaja of cover-ups’), national carrier Air India, rather than investigating the events that occurred on its Delhi-Shanghai flight earlier this month and taking action where needed, is calling crewmembers to find out who actually disclosed the episode to this newspaper.

MiD DAY report yesterday

“We have received several calls from officials who want to identify the person who divulged these facts to the media,” a crewmember told this newspaper.

Taking chances
But a far graver issue remains. The Airbus aircraft, which was operating as flight AI 348 Delhi-Shanghai on July 5 was impaired during the turbulence. Top Air India sources told this newspaper that the aircraft must have been decommissioned at Shanghai. But in reality, as the matter was not reported, the plane landed at Shanghai around 7 pm (IST) and was prepared to operate as flight AI 349 after four hours on the same day at around 11 pm. The ground engineer cleared the aircraft for take-off. The aircraft was later decommissioned after landing at Delhi on July 6. In the process, the airline potentially endangered the lives of 250 travellers.

DGCA officials investigating the matter gave assurance of a thorough investigation into why the aircraft was not decommissioned in Shanghai. 

“This is an extremely serious violation. If the same aircraft was used as a return flight just after four hours, it is like putting people’s lives at risk,” said Captain Mohan Ranganathan, member, Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Committee (CASAC).

“According to existing aviation guidelines, if any passenger is injured on board, it is not an incident but an accident, and the pilot in command must make an emergency landing. If the pilot has not reported the case and has threatened the crewmembers as well to not open their mouths, it becomes a serious offence under procedures and I think DGCA must cancel his licence. Being a member of CASAC, I will raise the issue with the regulator as well as the ministry,” Ranganathan added.

Former MD, Air India, Captain DS Mathur said, “It is a very serious incident and I believe it was badly handled. There should be a through investigation into the matter and everyone involved should be severely punished.”

So far, no action
Directorate General of Civil Aviation off-rosters any pilot even if violation is found. But in the current case it is yet to take any decision. “We came to know about the matter in the last two days. It will take some time for the investigation to be completed and then only will we be able to take any action,” was the reply received from DGCA chief Prashant Sukul.

Despite repeated attempts by this paper since yesterday morning, the airline was unable to state what action it is going to take in the matter.

MiD DAY taken off AI flights
Air India sources at Mumbai airport confirmed to this newspaper that Tuesday’s edition of MID DAY, which was initially distributed to passengers on board, was later barred. “The paper was distributed on a few of the morning flights out of Mumbai, but this was stopped later as the publication was carrying this report about our pilot and could have damaged the reputation of the airline,” an Air India official attached to the Mumbai airport informed this newspaper. 

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