Following the crash of a helicopter operated by Mumbai-based United Helicharters Pvt Ltd in 2013 that killed all five persons on board, the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) conducted a detailed investigation and based on that recommended the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to ask all non-scheduled operators to have a flying professional at least at one of the key posts in the company.
“DGCA may issue instructions that all the Non Scheduled Operators should have a flying (current) professional at least at one of the key post(s) to have a better control on operations from safety point of view,” the AAIB said in its safety recommendations part of the accident investigation report that was authored in 2014 but was put in the public domain last week.
In September 2013, the Bell Helicopter model 212 departed from Juhu airport for Aurangabad with three passengers and two crew members on board and crashed about 37 minutes after taking off.
Among other findings such as refusal of Aurangabad air traffic control to extend watch hours in the morning thereby indirectly contributing to the accident and bad weather, the accident report also pointed out that it appeared as if the “pilot was under mental compulsion to complete the flight as there was not much flying by the company in the recent past …”.
As a probable cause of the accident, the AAIB said: “The accident was caused due pilot continuing the flight in very poor visibility conditions with insufficient ground clearance and hitting the hill due to spatial disorientation. Non-functioning of the weather radar and non-familiarity of the pilot with the terrain along with lack of currency on the specific type contributed to the accident.”
In the factual information of the flight, the AAIB pointed out that at the time of the accident, the CEO of United Helicharters was from a finance background and the chief pilot of the company was a non-flying pilot “though he has got very good experience of helicopter flying”.
As per the latest updated civil aviation requirement detailing the minimum requirements for grant of permit to operate non-scheduled air transport services, the operator must have a safety management system that clearly defines the lines of safety accountability throughout the organisation, including a direct accountability for safety on the part of senior management.
It also says that the organisation should have “adequately qualified persons” in their safety division to analyse incidents, defects, carry out internal safety audits and monitor flight operations quality assurance by downloading cockpit voice recorder/flight data recorder information. The DGCA’s guidelines also call for having a chief of flight safety, whose qualifications include “a broad aviation/technical education”, “a sound knowledge of commercial operations, in particular flight operations procedures and activities”, “experience as a flight crew member preferably on type of aircraft operated by the company or aviation engineer”, “experience in aircraft accident/incident investigation, safety audits and accident prevention work of minimum ten years” but does not, as recommended by the AAIB, includes the requirement of having a professional who is currently flying.