The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), India’s statutory body for the regulation of civil aviation in India, has opened an investigation into a major near mid-air collision involving two IndiGo aircraft over the Bengaluru airport just after they took off on the morning of January 7.
Confirming the investigation to Frontline , Arun Kumar, Director General, DGCA, said that the incident involved flight 6E-455 departing for Kolkata and flight 6E-246 taking off for Bhubaneswar. Said Kumar: “We are investigating and shall take strict action against those found delinquent.” Kumar, though, did not specify a time frame for the completion of the probe, only going as far as saying “hopefully very soon”.
An official connected with the DGCA’s investigation, speaking on condition of anonymity, said prima facie the two IndiGo planes were involved in a “breach of separation” as they took off from Bengaluru’s Kempegowda International Airport’s (KIA) parallel runways. Breach of separation occurs when two aircraft traverse the minimum mandatory vertical or horizontal distance in an airspace envelope.
Sources told Frontline that on that morning, KIA’s north runway was meant to be used for take offs and the south airstrip for landings. However, the Watch Supervisory Officer, who is the Air Traffic Control (ATC) officer responsible for management and coordination of the ATC, appears to have decided to restrict operations to a single runway, utilising just the north runway for both arrivals and departures, while closing the south runway for operations. This was, however, not conveyed to the controller in charge of the south runway’s tower. This, the source said, resulted in the south tower controller clearing flight 6E-455 for takeoff even while the north tower controller cleared 6E-246 also for take off.
The official added that preliminary findings indicated that the incident had occurred because of a gross lack of communication/coordination between ATC officers posted on duty at the time and manning the north and south runways of KIA airport.
According to the official, passengers and crew aboard the two IndiGo Airbus aircraft had a miraculous escape only because an observant radar controller spotted the potentially disastrous error and alerted the pilots, who were operating their respective aircraft unaware of the impending danger. While flight 6E-455 swerved sharply to the left, the pilot in charge of flight 6E-246 veered the aircraft to the right, thereby avoiding what could have been a major calamity. According to the official both aircraft were on the same flight path till they were almost at an altitude of around 3,000 feet.
According to aviation experts, parallel runway take offs/landings are not permitted in India, including at the Bengaluru airport where the distance between the north and south two airstrips is not sufficient to allow parallel and simultaneous take offs/landings.
Surprisingly, the incident was neither logged in the logbook nor did the Airports Authority of India (AAI), which operates the KIA ATC, report the incident to the DGCA.