Thursday, February 15, 2018

An incident story that turned into an accident

A near miss incident involving a Vistara Delhi -Pune flight and an Air India Mumbai-Bhopal flight could be one of the most discussed and widely reported aviation incidents recently in India. Though the report that was carried first by Times of India on 11th of this month and later taken up by most of the national and regional press has brought aviation safety to sharp focus again, it raises more questions on how safety issues like this are reported and interpreted by the media.
And it is also of concern that the whole details of the incident were leaked to the press by one or two  central government organizations and the press thereafter presented  it  to the public in the most unprofessional and unethical manner.

The is a gist of the report(s):

On February 7, night  an Air India flight (Mumbai to Bhopal AI 631, an Airbus A 319-112) was travelling at 27,000 ft towards Bhopal.  A Vistara flight (UK997, Airbus A320-251N) that was inn the same skies flying towards  Pune from Delhi at 29,000 feet suddenly started descending to 27,000. The astonished area controller asked the Vistara why it left the assigned level of 29,000 and going to 27,000 and the pilot of the craft retorted that she was told by the controller to do so. The argument was heard by the AI pilot too, because She too was tuned to the same frequency. Then to her horrors,  the AI commander noticed  the Vistara flight speeding towards her flight just 2.8km away. Then the Traffic Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) of both the aircraft issued a very urgent collision warning (resolution advisory). The warning said, “climb, climb” to the AI  flight and the pilot climbed up and turned right immediately to fly clear of Vistara, to escape the doom that was imminent. The level difference between two flights was just 100ft before AI flight climbed up, as per TCAS. When their paths crossed each other , the level difference was just 600ft. Whereas, the allowed minimum vertical separation was 1000ft.

The original reports published by the Times of India on two consecutive days and the rehash of those reports by the rest of the national media made the readers think that:

  • The two aircraft were traveling in opposite directions
  • Both aircraft were maintaining their respective levels- 27,000 and 29,000 feet – cruising along peacefully until the Vistara started descending from 29,000 to AI flight’s 27,000 level.
  • It was the presence of mind Air India pilot that saved the lives of as many as 271 people on board of both aircraft. She acted precisely and swiftly when faced by a life threatening eventuality.
  • But for the AI pilot, the two aircraft would have collided each other, face on.

But the actual facts couldn’t have been more different:

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