Civil aviation

Case in point

Print edition : October 22, 2021

ON a typical 90-minute flight in a jet aircraft, the landing phase accounts for hardly 1 per cent of the flying time, but accidents occurring while landing have resulted in approximately 20 per cent of all aviation fatalities, according to the Boeing Aircraft Aviation Safety department. Both of India’s most recent air mishaps occurred while landing.

There have been numerous incidents of landing hiccups that never got reported. In April 2020, an online aviation education platform uploaded on YouTube a video titled ‘Why Landing Long Is Dangerous’(www.boldmethod.com/learn-to-fly/safety/landing-long-is-dangerous-a320-lands-in-displaced-threshold/) of an Air India Airbus A320 ‘landing long’ and touching down in the displaced threshold (an area located at a point other than the designated physical beginning or end of the runway that is available for taxiing, takeoff, and landing roll out, but not to be used for landing) at Port Blair’s Veer Savarkar International Airport. The online portal also posed the question: “We all know that you can’t land on a displaced threshold. But have you ever seen someone land in the displaced threshold on the opposite side of the runway? Probably not. And definitely not in an Airbus A320.”

The video, which was originally shot in 2019 by an amateur plane spotter who had perched himself atop the hill overlooking the unidirectional runway, proved to be a major embarrassment to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and the airline when, following the release of the Kozhikode accident report, it was used as an example by ‘SafetyMatters’, the NGO engaged in promoting aviation safety. Though a serious violation that in aviation expert Captain Amit Singh’s view must be categorised “as a deliberate attempt to endanger the lives of passengers and crew”, the pilots did not report it. Though the landing violation triggered many ‘red flags’ in the digital flight data recorder (DFDR) and the flight operations quality assurance, it was hushed up. But the citing of the video in the aftermath of the Kozhikode accident report was too glaring for the Flight Standards Directorate (FSD) of the DGCA to ignore.

An inquiry was ordered a good two years after the incident, with Air India also being compelled to act and de-roster the two pilots. Ironically, that flight was operated by two captains instead of the usual combination of a captain and a copilot; one of the captains is currently being considered for promotion as a trainer.

According to aviation experts such as Captain Mohan Ranganathan, there are several such incidents that are not reported, and the FSD is oblivious of them. The problem, according to experts, is that most entities associated with the aviation sector in India do not report violations until they are caught, and the system is designed to hide violations. They aver that only an effective safety oversight can stem the rot.

 

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