The Indian airspace has witnessed many ‘near miss’ incidents in past two years for various reasons — foreign pilots not able to understand the directions of Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs), three planes flying at the same height, flight descending to the height where another one is already flying. However, according to the safety regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the number of such incidents have come down by 20 per cent in 2016-17.
As per the latest DGCA data, reviewed by The Indian Express, the number of near miss incidents in 2016-17 and 2015-16 were 24 and 30, respectively. The number of near miss incidents in the January to March quarter of 2016-17 is just four, compared with 10 incidents that occurred in the corresponding period of 2015-16.
“The ratio of number of near misses came down in the last year. If you look at the data, it is not too worrying. But, the government would like such incidents to be minimised. We want that the regulations should be followed, that much extra care has to be taken. But it is nothing to worry, Indian skies are safe and we want to keep these safe,” said a senior civil aviation ministry official, on the condition of anonymity.
All such incidents are investigated by the Airport Investigation Board that is constituted by the DGCA itself. Subsequently, these investigations are reviewed at DGCA for their “completeness” and processed for “implementation of recommendations”.
Based on the analysis of different near miss cases, the DGCA has decided that certain corrective steps need to be taken. These steps include counselling and training ATC officers and pilots about the “deficient parts” of the airplane. Moreover, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) has formed a slot allotment committee to “reduce similar call-signs while deciding the slots”. An airline slot is a permission by a coordinator to use the full range of airport infrastructure necessary to arrive or depart at a Level-3 airport — where capacity is constrained due to lack of sufficient infrastructure — on a specific date and time.
Some of the other corrective steps taken by the DGCA are: “ATC officer’s and pilot’s proficiency checks are being carried out regularly. ATC services are being mordernised to include conflict warning in the system to assist ATC officer. Case studies of Airprox/ATC incidents are discussed and analysed to avoid recurrence of such incidents. Airlines have been directed to avoid the use of similar/confusing call-signs.”
The DGCA has also laid out the coordination procedures of handing over one unit to another person. It is trying to make sure that “coordination of handing over traffic to adjoining FIR (Flight Instructer’s Rating)” is worked out and “any deviation is being pointed out to the concerned units for corrective action”. Moreover, ATC officials are being given training on simulator at major stations and they are being “sensitised” on this subject, according to the DGCA.
Some other corrective measures of the DGCA to avoid near-miss incidents include “implementation of safety management system at airports to mitigate the risk of accident/incident. Implementation of flexible use of airspace which will reduce traffic congestion in the airspace”. Meanwhile, in 2015-16, the DGCA did not find any pilots drunk in the post-flight medical examination. However, in 2016-17, the regulator found two pilots drunk in the post-flight medical examination.
The AAI hired nearly 1,000 ATC personnel in the past two years, the first such major hiring since 2012 to address security concerns. “Minimum separation distance between the two aircraft specified by the DGCA is a key parameter that is monitored to ensure safety. It so happens that sometimes planes come within that separation distance, but it does not mean that it will necessarily result in mishappening even though it will still be a near miss technically,” the official quoted earlier said.
Industry sources said that increasing air traffic sometimes leads to aircraft coming close to each other, which leads to violation of the separation parameter. “When you are quoting the statistical figures, you should also quote the figures of increase in traffic and increase in movements. There is limited infrastructure. Naturally, as per the law of proportionality, there will be increase in incidents. It is good that the numbers have decreased. The safety checks which have been put into position have been effective. These checks are designed in safety programme based on previous experiences because the incidents that are investigated bring out certain specific lapses and reconnaissance is done to avoid such lapses,” said former DGCA Kanu Gohain.
Currently, India has more than 1,632 aircraft registered in the Civil Aviation Registry, which include planes manufactured by Boeing, Airbus and other smaller companies. More than double-digit growth in passenger traffic has led to Indian carriers buy more planes to cater to the rising demand. As per industry estimates, Indian airlines, led by IndiGo and SpiceJet, have placed combined orders of around 850 jets that will arrive in India in a staggered manner.
“There has been a new thing. At the ground incidents, like an airplane hitting an airplane, or a vehicle hitting an airplane, there is something called airport discipline. There is an airport operator, they have introduced lot of safety checks. For example, they have airport driving permits… Lines are drawn, the guidelines are there which they have to strictly adhere to. Now, there may be some deviations — like acute turns in the particular (physical) layout. Before any such guidelines are made operational, just so that fortified to be safe, risk analysis is carried out these days. Through these risk assessment studies, they design some restriction on movements. This is how things are being controlled,” he said.