THE Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) has pointed out lapses in following the standard operating procedure (SOP) before flight take-off and improper rostering of crew as the probable cause of an accident that led to an Air India ground staff engineer’s death at the Mumbai airport in 2015. The engineer was sucked into the engine of Airbus A-319 that was to operate from Mumbai to Hyderabad on December 16, 2015.
Ground staff engineer Ravi Subramanian was monitoring the procedure of pushback in the absence of an aircraft maintenance engineer (AME) when the commanding pilot, A G Sharma, revved up the engines on the guidance of co-pilot Nikhil Bhagwani, said the AAIB report. Subramanian was sucked into the second engine leading to his death on the spot. Both the pilot and the co-pilot were later removed from their jobs. The report said that the deceased engineer was carrying out pushback and taxi clearance – a protocol to be observed on the runway before flight take-offs.
After receiving a green signal from the co-pilot about runway clearance, the pilot started the engine. “Meanwhile, the aircraft started moving and deceased ground service engineer was standing with back towards the aircraft with headphone on his head viewing the installation of two bar (used for pushing the aircraft). The aircraft engine came very close to the deceased and sucked him,” the report stated.
The report also mentions that there were differences in the statement recorded from the co-pilot and the ground staff about receiving a green signal from Subramanian about the departure of the flight. “As per the operations manual, one person from the ground crew must be designated as marshaller and given a thumbs up signal. As per the co-pilot statement, the ground personnel had given clearance followed by thumbs up and not used a torch for clearance.However as per the statement of chocks helper and tow truck driver, the deceased engineer had neither showed thumbs up or pin to pilot nor by any other person (sic),” the report stated.
The report states that the flight was delayed from its scheduled departure time as the crew operating the flight had reached late. They were delayed as the previous flight operated by them reached Mumbai airport an hour later than its expected arrival time. “As per Air India Operations Manual, the operating cockpit crew has to board the aircraft 20 minutes prior to scheduled departure for cockpit preparations and ATC clearances. However, the cockpit crew in this case entered cockpit 7 minutes prior to commencement of pushback,” the report mentioned.
In its safety recommendations, the body has asked the airline to review its rostering schedule for a proper time gap and avoid last minute changes in crew rostering. It has also instructed that the crew must board an aircraft 20 minutes prior to the actual scheduled departure time and a minimum of 30-minute time gap be kept between two consecutive flights with different aircraft. “After the incident, we had already brought the newer guidelines into practice. We also follow the 20-minute gap suggested for the crew to be inside the cockpit before departure,” a senior Air India official said.