An aircraft maintenance engineer, who was the last to handle the panel which fell off a Delhi-Bangalore Air India flight last Saturday, has been suspended. In all probability, this engineer "forgot to screw back this panel", an airline official told Firstpost. This official also said though the incident was regrettable, it never had "any safety implications since the panel fell off when the aircraft had already landed on the runway.
The DGCA has already given Air India a clean chit. So much is being made out of the incident......its not as if the panel would have fallen on someone's head".
Last Saturday, a panel on a Boeing 787's fuselage flew off when the aircraft was winging its way from Delhi to Bangalore with 148 people on board. Allegedly, the pilots did not realize the panel had fallen off and it was found on the runway later. A Times of India story described the incident thus: "The gaping hole caused by the missing part - measuring 8 by 4 feet - was discovered when the plane was being prepared for the return flight to Delhi." The same story said a similar panel was taken out of a brand new Dreamliner, taken to Bangalore and fitted on the flight which took off after a delay of almost 10 hours.
This latest incident of a panel falling off the brand new Dreamliner aircraft comes after a series of problems with the Dreameliners earlier. A battery fire incident had grounded Dreamliners for months across the globe last year for four months. In July again, a fire broke out in an empty aircraft that was parked at Heathrow. For AI itself, there have been problems like jammed doors on these aircraft.
The official quoted earlier said the engineer's suspension means he is taken off duty and will not get 25% of his salary for the period of suspension but did not elaborate on the duration of this suspension. Also, though he said aviation regulator DGCA has already gievn the airline a "clean chit" it remains unclear if the regulator is holding a separate enquiry after which any further action will follow.
AI is already facing aircraft shortage as it has embarked on an ambitious plan to replce 19 old Airbus 320 aircraft with new ones; lease on 5 other A 319 aircraft is expiring. Air India has been unable to find new A320s and is being compelled to renew the lease of the A319s at higher lease rentals to overcome aircraft shortage.
So snags in the Dreamliner could not have come at a worse time. The Dreamliners are the lifeline of the airline, helping it in opening up new medium haul international routes and mounting domestic flights. Whether the panel actuall fell off because of engineering negligence or because of some defect in the aircraft - Air India needs to handle these planes very very carefully to retain its flight schedules.