Indian carriers have been issued instructions not to roster foreign pilots to defence airfields till they are “thoroughly briefed about the approach procedures of Indian defence airfields”.
This comes after an investigation into the near-miss incident between a GoAir and a SpiceJet aircraft in Goa on October 22 found that the foreign crew of the GoAir flight failed to correctly understand instructions given by Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs).
GoAir and other airlines have now been directed not to operate wet-lease aircraft (where crew is leased with the aircraft) to defence airfields till all foreign crew have been specifically briefed about operating procedures, an official involved in the exercise said. In the wake of the Goa incident, an audit of the wet-lease operation by GoAir had also been ordered by the office of the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
Of the more than 100 airports managed by the Airports Authority of India, 26 are civil enclaves at defence airfields. Others include 18 international airports, 78 domestic airports and 7 customs airports. As per information updated till September 30 last year, as many as 284 foreign pilots were employed by domestic aviation companies.
The Goa incident triggered the traffic collision avoidance systems (TCAS) of the two aircraft and forced their pilots to take corrective measures to avoid a potential collision.
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Officials said SpiceJet’s flight SG-3604 had experienced a TCAS warning when it breached the minimum required vertical separation distance with GoAir flight G8-141 while in the airspace over Goa. The incident happened when the SpiceJet flight took off from Goa for Hyderabad and the GoAir Mumbai-Goa flight was descending to land.
Just after take-off, the TCAS alarm went off in the cockpit of the SpiceJet Bombardier Q400 turboprop aircraft and pilots were forced to take evasive action. “GoAir’s wet-leased aircraft did not follow the instructions issued by the Goa ATC for the (landing) approach,” according to the investigation report.
A query sent to GoAir on the probe findings and the subsequent advisories did not elicit a response.
Air-miss incidents are investigated by the Airprox Investigation Board constituted by the DGCA and these investigation reports are reviewed at DGCA headquarters for completeness and implementation of recommendations emanating from the investigations.
Under DGCA rules, the “Reduced Vertical Separation Minimum” operations permitted by the aviation regulator in the Indian airspace allows aircraft to fly with a minimum vertical separation of 1,000 feet. A breach in this separation sets off the TCAS of the aircraft. In Goa, the worrying fact is that the pilot confusion over the ATC instructions happened despite standard radiotelephony phraseology being used by the traffic controllers as per ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) standards, officials involved in the exercise said.
On November 10, less than a month after the Goa incident, there was another incident involving GoAir’s Mumbai-Goa flight G8-141 and SpiceJet flight SG-141 (Delhi-Goa) that was triggered by the similarity in call signs of the two flights, which led to “confusion between the crew and the ATC”.
Then on December 26, there was an incident involving SpiceJet flight SG-123 and IndiGo flight 6E-769 coming face to face on taxiway E2 at Delhi airport while taxiing to their respective parking stands. The controller reportedly intervened and both aircraft were instructed to stop at a safe distance.
Of the 284 foreign pilots employed by domestic aviation companies, IndiGo has the highest number — 94, according to Ministry of Civil Aviation data updated till September 2015. Other carriers with a large number of foreign pilots are Jet Airways (84), Air Costa (14), Air India Charters Ltd (11) and Alliance Air (10).
The hiring of foreign pilots by aviation companies is done to counter shortage of type-rated commanders in the country due to growth in aviation industry and induction of new aircraft in the fleet of the airlines. While sufficient numbers of Indian co-pilots are available and employed with the airlines, they do not possess adequate training and experience required to become commander on that type.
To cover the shortage of type-rated pilots, validation of foreign pilots is done as per Rule 45 of the DGCA’s Aircraft Rules, 1937. Indian pilots inducted by airlines, and eligible to become Pilots in Command (PIC) as per the policy of airlines, are being trained by them to phase out expatriate pilots. As a follow-up, cases of Foreign Aircrew Temporary Authorization (FATA) pilots are processed on the basis of information furnished by each airline and only after security clearance from the Ministry of Home Affairs. The government has restricted issue of FATA up to December 31, 2018.