Friday, August 28, 2020

Kerala Plane Crash: Govt Aviation Body Sidelines Its Own 46 Experts To Set up Probe Panel

The Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau has ignored its own panel of 46 experts in setting up a 5-member probe team to find out what led to crash of Air India Express aircraft at Kozhikode International Airport on August 7.

A Boeing 737 aircraft, carrying 191 passengers, skidded off a tabletop runway, fell into a gorge and split into two earliet this month. Twenty passengers, including the two pilots, lost their lives.

Five days later, on August 13, Group Captain Aurobindo Handa, Director General Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB), issued an order for setting up a five-member panel with an investigator-in-charge to probe the accident. 

The five member panel is headed by Captain SS Chahar, a former examiner of Boeing 737 NG with erstwhile Jet Airways. His team members include Ved Prakash (Operations Experts), Mukul Bhardwaj (Senior Aircraft Maintenance Engineer of B737), Group Captain YS Dahiya (Aviation Medicine Expert) and Jasbir Singh Larhga (Deputy Director AAIB).

The AAIB has a regular workforce of seven safety personnel and an independent panel of 23 pilots and cockpit crew, 12 engineers, four aviation operation experts, two experts each for aviation psychology and aerodrome and one expert each as In-Flight Safety personnel and air safety investigator.

Empanelled in October 2018, these 46 experts, according to the AAIB’s circular of June 9, 2016, “are required to carry out the investigation of Aircraft Accidents and serious incidents as member of Committee of Inquiry (COI) whenever called upon to do so by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau.”

Except one regular member Jasbir Singh Larhga, Deputy Director, AAIB, the rest four of the current probe team come from outside. A complaint against Larhga about allegedly tampering with the pieces of evidence of Ghatkoper Air crash has already been pending before the aviation ministry.   

Out of seven regular members of AAIB, five are on deputation and draw their salaries from DGCA.

In the fifth meeting of the Asia Pacific Accident Investigation Group, under the aegis of ICAO in August 2017, the Indian representative had said that the country has “established Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) of India independent of the DGCA.”

“If the members of the AAIB belong to the DGCA, which is one of the alleged parties to the crime, this is a mockery of aircraft accident investigation in India. It looks like the country doesn’t have a single competent investigator to investigate the Calicut crash,” a safety expert empanelled with AAIB said requesting anonymity.

 He said the panel of the experts was just an “eye-wash”.

Before the formation of AAIB on July 30, 2012, the DGCA used to investigate all the air accidents. However, being an aviation watchdog, DGCA’s complicity to the crime was often alleged and the investigation report questioned.

Besides protests from aviation experts to separate investigation, a committee formed by the government in the 1990s, under the Chairmanship of Air Marshal JK Seth, stated that the DGCA couldn’t be a jury and a judge in a case against its own. It also held that DGCA didn’t have competent persons for investigation of aircraft accidents. International air safety norms, to which India is a signatory, mandates the separation of investigation and regulation.
28/08/20 Jeevan Prakash Sharma/Outlook
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