Of the 15 flights that landed in, or took off from Kozhikode on August 7 ahead of the ill-fated aircraft that overshot the runway, two could hold vital clues for investigators.
An hour and 40 minutes before Air India Express Flight IX1344 crashed, an ATR72-600 turboprop aircraft operated by IndiGo faced difficulty approaching Kozhikode on a flight from Bengaluru, but managed to land safely at 5.58 pm.
And soon after IX1344 failed to land on its first approach, air traffic control (ATC) cleared for take-off an Air India aircraft bound for Delhi — an indication that the crew of the Boeing 737-800 flying in from Dubai did not raise an alarm over weather or other conditions at the airport at the time.
The Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) of the Ministry of Civil Aviation on Thursday set up a committee headed by Captain S S Chahar to probe the crash. Capt Chahar is a former designated examiner on the Boeing 737NG, the aircraft that was involved in the accident. The panel, which has five months to submit its report, also comprises an operations expert, a senior Boeing 737 maintenance engineer, an aviation medicine expert, and an AAIB deputy director.
AAIB Director General Aurobindo Handa told The Indian Express that the initial incident notification has been submitted to the International Civil Aviation Organisation. Information from the aircraft’s black boxes is, however, yet to be recovered and analysed.
According to flight data provided by Flightradar24, which tracks the paths of commercial passenger aircraft in real time, the IndiGo plane made an approach from the east, stopped descending at 2,200 ft, climbed to 3,800 ft, and made several loops above the airport before finally making an approach from the west.
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The AI Express aircraft came in from above the Arabian Sea (to the west of the airport), and first made a teardrop approach from the east. Upon failing, it did a go-around and approached from the west, which is not the conventional direction of approach at the airport. It touched down a significant distance into the runway, overshot it, and fell into a gorge, killing 18 people including both pilots.
A senior official at the aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), confirmed the go-around by the IndiGo turboprop, but said it was “a non-reportable event”.
“Go-around by IndiGo aircraft on 07.08.2020 at Calicut airport is not a reportable occurrence. DGCA policy in this regard is contained in Operations Circular 1 of 2013. In the interest of safety, the policy encourages pilots to go around,” the official told The Indian Express.
IndiGo did not reply to an email query sent by The Indian Express.
Responding to questions on whether investigators had been able to ascertain a preliminary cause of the crash, Handa said: “It would be inappropriate and hasty to speculate any assessment at this stage.” If a need was felt at any stage, the AAIB would seek assistance in the investigation from specialised agencies in India or abroad, he said.
The DGCA’s Operations Circular 1 of 2013 says: “When, for any reason, it is judged that an approach cannot be continued to a safe, successful landing, a ‘missed approach’/‘go-around’ is flown. A ‘missed approach’/‘go-around’ is often unexpected and places special demands on the Pilots. Since the maneuver is conducted close to the ground, it is imperative that it is conducted exactly as the pilots have been trained for it.
“A very important intangible factor that needs to be kept in mind in this regard is the fact that during the decision and execution of a ‘missed approach’/‘go-around’, the Pilots must have no other considerations in mind except the safety of the aircraft and its occupants.”
The Delhi-bound Air India flight that was cleared for take-off after IX 1344 failed to land in its first attempt, was originally supposed to leave only after the Air India Express flight had landed. The flight from Dubai performed a go-around in accordance with laid-down procedures, and held its altitude before making the approach that ended in the crash.
When a pilot raises a significant red flag over the weather or any in-flight emergency, the ATC immediately informs other aircraft lined up for landing or take-off. The fact that the Delhi-bound aircraft – an Airbus A320 that left at 7.30 pm – was cleared for take-off suggests that the ATC was not made aware of any such problem by the crew of IX 1344, senior officials tracking the investigation said.
“We will have to wait for the analysis from the aircraft’s black boxes before making any assessment,” one official said. An email query sent to the Airports Authority of India (AAI), which manages the ATC at Kozhikode, went unanswered.
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