Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Airline, DGCA let off pilot despite unsafe landing; while another who stuck to SOP, grounded for a year

Mumbai: Air India and Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) top brass allegedly stepped in to protect a pilot who willfully jeopardized the lives of passengers when landing a Delhi-Hong Kong flight early this year. In another similar incident, an Air India pilot who followed the safety norms to correct an unsafe approach and carry out a go-around for a safe landing was grounded for close to a year. The pilot who endangered lives was back to flying in three months.
The two cases highlight the arbitrary manner in which certain incidents that have a bearing on flight safety are handled.
"No pilot should be under the fear of being grounded for taking corrective action. But Air India and DGCA’s biased handling to these two Hong Kong incidents sends a different message," said a senior commander requesting anonymity.
On the morning of February 08, Air India flight AI-310 had descended to about 800 feet and was a minute away from the Hong Kong airport runway when a loud, aural "TOO LOW GEAR" warning blared in the cockpit, cautioning that the pilots had forgotten to lower the landing gear.
"It was an unambiguous situation. The aircraft was at 800 feet with the landing gear up. The commander should have discontinued the approach (descent) to land and initiated a go-around (abort landing, climb out and return for a fresh attempt at landing) because there wasn’t enough time for the landing gear to be the lowered and most importantly, locked safely into position before touchdown," said a source.
However the AI-310 commander continued with the descent. At 500 feet, the crew selected the landing flaps. Once the landing gear is lowered, the aircraft's speed and descent profile changes. The norm is to lower the flaps first and after the aircraft has stabilised, the landing gear is lowered. "The aircraft should be configured for landing, with landing flaps and landing gear down and locked before it crosses 1000 feet. But both these actions were carried out when the aircraft was less than a minute from the runway," the source added.
It was a lucky day for the passengers as the landing gear had locked into position before touchdown.
The Hong Kong aviation authorities informed Air India and DGCA. The commander was immediately grounded by Air India flight safety department and the case was taken to DGCA, Mumbai. "In a brow-raising turn of events, a DGCA official wrote to AI calling it a minor incident and asked AI to carry out an internal inquiry," said a source.

Meanwhile, AI flight safety department had carried out a detailed technical analysis of the incident and as per the norm, gave its recommendations to AI executive director (operations). He passed on the recommendations for necessary action. The recommendations were that the said commander should undergo corrective training and 250 hours of flying under supervision of a check pilot.

However that did not happen as an AI director, a board member, stepped in and intervened. "He overruled the AI flight safety department recommendations, overstepped the authority of ED (operations) and cleared the commander to fly after just one day refresher training," said the source. "He doesn’t have the authority to overrule this," the source said.

In October 2018, the pilots of flight AI-310 were carrying out an approach and had descended below 1000 feet, when they received a "TOO LOW TERRAIN" cockpit warning. "Keeping with safety norms, the pilots initiated a go-around at 230 feet. The commander was grounded, the matter was taken up for investigation by the DGCA, but for over a year, they kept him on ground," said the source. "It sends out a wrong message. The pilot who carried out a go-around was grounded for close to a year, while the one who did not carry out a go-around and thus endangered the safety of the aircraft and passengers was back to flying in three months," the source added.
09/10/19 Manju V/Times of India
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