Did JetLite crew perform risky flight after tail strike?

A Jetlite Boeing 737-800, VT-SIJ peforming flight S2-703 from Mumbai to Kolkata with 141 passengers and 6 crew, suffered a tail strike.

Jet Airways Boeing 737-800 VT-JGVTail strikes are not uncommon in longer aircraft, and the Boeing 737-800 features a tail skid plate to protect against structural damage as seen in this picture of a Jet Airways Boeing 737-800. Some newer 737s even have a tail strike detection sensor built in to the skid plate.

PTI quoting sources at Kolkata Airport reported, that the crew was aware of the tail strike, but decided to continue the 2+ hour flight to Kolkata, where the airplane landed safely. A post flight inspection revealed some damage to the tail.

This decision to continue the flight appears to have been a very risky one.

Tail strikes can easily lead to structural damage and de-pressurisation as the plane ascends in to the thin air. It is normal practice for the aircraft to return to the departing airport to determine the extent of damage to mitigate any risk.

The worst example of de-pressurisation following a tail strike occurred on August 12, 1985, when Japan Airlines Flight 123 operated by a Boeing 747SR registration JA8119 lost all its hydraulic flight control systems shortly after take-off from Tokyo International Airport. It was the worst single-aircraft disaster in history with 520 out of 524 people on board dying. The cause was traced back to a pressure bulkhead failure which was incorrectly repaired following an earlier tail strike.

In fact a statement from the airline seems to confirm a deviation from standard operating procedure (SOP) but also indicates that the crew may have performed some form of checks. However those checks are not indicated.

Jet Lite confirms one of its Boeing 737 aircraft experienced what is defined as a tail scrape.

At no time was the safety of the passengers and crew comprised. The aircraft will return to service post inspection.

Whilst this is not a normal procedure, the occurrence is not uncommon in the industry. The manufacturers have a procedure to deal with this event, which occurs when the extendable tails strut touches the runway during rotation.

One has to question why the crew choose to ignore SOP and not return to Mumbai and determine the damage, especially if they were aware of the tail strike.

Considering the considerable distance between Mumbai and Kolkata the flight would perform at quite high altitudes. Not returning to determine the extent of damage and choosing to continue the flight risking high altitude de-pressurisation en-route, could be interpreted as risky behaviour, unless the crew ascertained by some other means the extent of damage.

What steps did the flight crew take to determine the extent of damage and potential risk, before choosing to continue the flight?

Did the on-going sick-out at Jetlite’s parent Jet Airways have a bearing even subconsciously on the flight commander’s decision?

These are questions the DGCA and the mainstream media must obtain answers to.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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