Major aviation disaster averted: Indian Navy tests missiles even as airspace remains open to traffic

In times when horrific aviation disasters have shocked the world, a potentially ghastly incident could have occurred off the Indian coast on Saturday when, due to a communication failure, the Indian Navy test fired several lethal surface-to-surface missiles above the Arabian Sea even as the airspace remained open to air traffic.

According to a report in the Mumbai Mirror, the Navy had requested Air Traffic Control (ATC) to shut down the airspace between 1230 and 1530 hours (12.30 pm to 3.30 pm), but forgot to specify the timezone — IST or GMT — in its request. With a lack of clarification, ATC assumed it to be GMT and shut down the airspace three hours after the missile exercise had started.

a BrahMos supersonic cruise missile is test-fired from newly-commissioned indigeneous guided missile destroyer the INS Kochi. AFP

A BrahMos supersonic cruise missile is test-fired from newly-commissioned indigeneous guided missile destroyer the INS Kochi. AFP

In those three hours of long range missile exercises, many commercial airliners passed through the airspace, but both the Navy and the ATC have been hush-hush over the exact number of airliners that escaped disaster or whether there were any near-misses, the report says.

Instead the Navy sought to downplay the gravity of the situation.

"Procedure-wise, there will never be any danger to any civilian aircraft. There is a lot of surveillance in the area. In fact, the entire area is kept out of bounds for all ships for 24 hours," a DNA report quoted Commander Rahul Sinha, public relations officer (defence) as saying.

According to the report authorities labelled the mix-up as 'individual error' and not as failure on the Navy or ATC's part.

Despite the the error, it is fortunate that no mishap occurred in the precarious airspace.

It has been a turbulent one-and-a-half years for aviation itself. The infamous disappearance of the ill-fated Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 in March 2014, followed by tragic shooting down of MH-17 in Ukrain by alleged separatists have cast dark clouds over air-safety.

On Saturday, a Russian airliner, Metrojet Flight 9268, crashed in Egypt's Sinai peninsula, killing all 224 people aboard. Initially, the Islamic State had claimed responsibility for shooting down the plane, which some have dismissed as terror propaganda. However, an initial probe has suggested 'external factors' to have caused the crash.


Updated Date: Nov 03, 2015 16:00 PM

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