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Monday, July 16, 2018

AI aircraft narrowly misses President’s chopper

This conversation between the ATC and the captain of Air India’s Mumbai-Delhi Flight IC 866 preceded what could have been a collision between the aircraft....

Written by Shashank Shekhar | Mumbai | Published: February 10, 2009 4:06:32 am

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This conversation between the ATC and the captain of Air India’s Mumbai-Delhi Flight IC 866 preceded what could have been a collision between the aircraft with 150 people on board and an IAF helicopter from President Pratibha Patil’s fleet on one of the runways at Mumbai airport this morning.

IC 866 aborted take-off at the eleventh hour after the controller spotted the presidential chopper — either an Mi-8 or an Mi-17 — on the active runway and alerted the pilot. ATC officials said the helicopter landed at the junction of runway 0927 and taxiway Charlie at 9.17 am,three minutes before its estimated time of arrival. A major disaster could have taken place had the tower not spotted the helicopter in the passenger aircraft’s take-off path.

President Patil herself was not in the helicopter involved in the mix-up. State government sources said her husband Devisingh Shekhawat and Maharashtra Governor SC Jamir were on board. The ATC however,refused to confirm this,saying they are never informed of the identity of passengers on board VIP aircraft.

“The presidential delegation consisting of three IAF helicopters was supposed to land at 9.20 am. The usual procedure is that one helicopter among the three,the ‘leader’,maintains contact with ATC,and the other two simply follow the ‘leader’ chopper. Today,even as the ‘leader’ helicopter was in touch with us,reporting that it was three miles (5.5 km) away from the airport,another helicopter from the same group landed at the airport,” an ATC official said.

“This helicopter had no landing clearance. It had not contacted the ATC,or perhaps even its ‘leader’ helicopter,” the official said.

“While we thought that the choppers were somewhere above Bandra,one of them was already at the airport,” another official said.

The Air Force,however,said its pilots followed all instructions given by the ATC and did not deviate from the given path or time.

“Prima facie,it appears that the pilots of the President’s entourage were following the instructions given by the ATC meticulously. However,to find out the facts in greater detail,an inquiry has been constituted by the Air Force,” IAF spokesperson Wing Commander Mahesh Upasani said.

The Director General of Civil Aviation has ordered a separate inquiry.

The presidential fleet of three helicopters — an Mi-17 and two Mi-8s — took off from the Navy’s INS Kunjali heliport off the coast of Mumbai at 9.10 am,a naval officer said. They were bringing Patil to the airport,where an IAF Boeing 737 was standing by to fly her to Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel’s constituency Gondia for an inauguration ceremony.

ATC officials explained that choppers frequently fly too low for their movements to be tracked on the radar. “As soon as the controller saw the chopper landing,there was a sense of alarm at the tower,” an official said.

Mumbai,the country’s busiest airport,which sees an average flight movement of 690-700 aircraft per day,and where a plane lands or takes off every minute and a half,does not have a dedicated corridor for VIP aircraft. ATC had,however,allocated three minutes post landing,i.e.,till 9.23 am,for the presidential choppers.

Air Force sources said the ATC appeared not to have followed the instructions relating to a VVIP flight,which require that airspace be closed when the Prime Minister or President is flying.

“The President’s flight is managed to the minute and even the door-opening time of the helicopter when the President lands,is given accurate to half a minute’s limit. Moreover,there are written instructions that airspace closure should be followed when the President or Prime Minister are flying,” an officer said.

ATC sources,however,said the instructions have been changed,and it is no longer required to completely close down the airspace. According to ATC officials,the mix-up appears to have occurred because one of the helicopters broke from the ‘Pratap’ formation in which the fleet was flying.

“DGCA has initiated an inquiry under Jt DG A K Chopra,” M G Jhungare,General Manager,ATC,Mumbai,said. “Whatever conversation between the pilot and the controller has been recorded will be looked into among other things… We cannot start blaming one another until the result of the enquiry is out.”

The IAF Boeing took off with the President at 9.40 am. Passengers of IC 866 were taken off the aircraft and put on another A 321 aircraft,which took off from Mumbai at 1.03 pm.

(With ENS,New Delhi)

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