New Delhi: So the government has now confirmed it was ATCO (Air Traffic Control Officer) error which lead to a scare at the Delhi International Airport yesterday, when two aircraft allegedly came “face to face” and pilots of both had to apply brakes. The ATCOs are overworked, said a source, as not enough of them are available at any given time. He also said the concerned ATCO has now been de-rostered and future course of action will be clear after aviation regulator DGCA completes its enquiry into the incident. This source went on to clarify that at no time was the life of passengers aboard the two aircraft in any danger and that this was an instance of human error on a day when fog delays had anyway made more work for ATCOs. In fact, the SpiceJet flight which came close to the IndiGo aircraft had been holding departure for a long time due to low visibility.
In a rare statement, the Airports Authority of India (AAI) - which houses ATC function – said this evening that human error lead to a traffic conflict situation but there was no risk to passengers. “Indigo Airlines flight No 6E-769 from Lucknow to Delhi, after landing on runway-28 was taxing via Taxiway ‘E2’ for parking stand 12 as advised by ATC. Departing flight of SpiceJet Airlines No SG123 was not able to take-off from runway 28 due to poor visibility i.e. weather being below minima and therefore was waiting to return to Apron for parking.
Accordingly the Controller instructed SG123 to taxi via taxiway C” and hold short of the taxiway ‘E2’ so that Indigo flight 6E-769 and SpiceJet flight SG123 would not conflict with each other. The traffic density being high and complex, the Air Traffic Controller inadvertently gave instructions to SG123 (the SpiceJet flight) to continue taxi via E to stand 130, mixing its location with the location of SG263 (another SpiecJet flight) which was holding on another taxiway ‘E’ for departure. However, SG123 also did not question the incomplete ATC instruction for taxing. These human errors resulted into traffic conflict situation. However, both aircraft stopped at safe distance and there was no risk to aircraft or passengers.”
The AAI further asserted that continuous efforts are being made by it to offset such human errors through Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), recurrent training to the controllers and introducing technology. “It may be noted that safety record of ATC provided by Airports Authority of India at Indian airports has been very good and comparable to best in the world.”
Yesterday, there was another incident at Goa airport which also made headlines. Early morning, 9W 2374 Goa-Mumbai Jet Airways' flight "veered off the runway while aligning for takeoff", the airline tweeted. It later said 12 passengers had sustained injuries and still later, it said all but five have been discharged. This incident made Goa's Dabolim airport unoperational for a few hours.
A regulatory source had told Firstpost yesterday that the Goa incident is being treated as an accident and a team from Air Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) will reach Goa by the evening to begin inquiries. This person also said a preliminary idea about what caused the aircraft to turn 180 degrees will be there only by Thursday. And Civil Aviation MInister A Gajapathi Raju tweeted that "thorough time-bound investigation and corrective action shall be ensured. Action will also be taken in case there is violation of procedures".
The government knows that overworked ATCOs and the ‘human error’ factor could prove costly for aviation safety. Remember, India was downgraded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the United States in 2014 for failing to have enough safety personnel and a restoration of the rating took many months.
The Air Traffic Control (ATC) is still short staffed. Sources tell us the manpower need is 3600 personnel and only about 2900 have been recruited till now. "These positions are being filled,"said an AAI official. A short staffed ATC apart, this story from Bloomberg quotes data from India's safety regulator DGCA to say that air safety incidents which prompted regulatory action reached 280 this year till August, beating the 275 all of last year. It went on to predict that "At this pace, the number may rise to more than 400 by the end of 2016, making it the worst in three years for aviation safety".
India is one of the fastest growing aviation markets across the globe and any increase in safety related incidents is obviously a cause for worry. DGCA officials say there is no cause for worry and incidents sometimes happen due to the "human" factor. They also add that the country is following all internationally mandated safety protocols.
Earlier this month, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and her party TMC had created a furore by alleging that an IndiGo flight carrying the CM was not allowed priority landing at Kolkata airport despite the pilots seeking emergency landing due to a fuel shortage. This was stoutly denied by the airline, which said there was probably a miscommunication between the flight crew and the ATC about how much fuel the flight was left with. Instead of seeking an explanation from the ATC personnel, aviation regulator DGCA grounded IndiGo pilots in this case.
According to data provided by MoS Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha in Lok Sabha earlier this month, there were 409 safety violations by the crew of scheduled, non-scheduled and general aviation aircraft in the last three years.
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Updated Date: Dec 28, 2016 18:57:54 IST