Security paranoia gone overboard? Singapore Airlines flight in emergency denied landing permission

First the facts. On October 3, 2010, a Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-300ER, registration 9V-SWK was performing flight SQ61 from Houston Bush Intercontinental, USA to Singapore via Moscow Domodedovo, Russia with 220 passengers and an unknown number of crew (the airline refused to give specific numbers). About 21:30 IST (16:00 UTC), the flight was en-route approaching the airspace over Amritsar in India when aviation authorities in Moscow sent an alert, based on information received that there was a possibility of a bomb being on board. As per global civil aviation requirements, this alert triggered a “Land ASAP” (as soon as possible) alert.

The crew requested to divert to Delhi, which was declined by authorities due to the ongoing opening ceremonies of the Commonwealth games 2010, and was forced to divert to Kolkata where it landed safely at 23:45 (18:15 UTC). Passengers were de-planed normally and accommodated in hotels.

After doing a thorough check security official cleared the aircraft to continue its flight to Singapore. The flight departed Kolkata October 4 at 17:45 (12:15 UTC) and reached Singapore on October 5 at 00:25 (16:25 UTC October 4). A delay of almost 18 hours.

One can understand the need for security during the Commonwealth games, but has caution in Delhi turned in to schizophrenia?

The simple rule of the sky is

An aircraft experiencing an emergency, or one that appears to be experiencing an emergency, will be given priority over all other traffic, including MEDEVAC (medical evacuation) flights. They beat out heads of state (Prime Ministers or Presidents), military aircraft on missions, and all others, especially those capable of routine flight. Other traffic will be moved out of the way in the best manner practical.

Residents of India have long learned to put up with the excessive posturing of forces in the name of security for politicians, but to deny a flight in emergency the right to land at the nearest airport is sacrilege. The only sigh of relief India can breathe, is that the bomb threat turned out to be a hoax.

Imagine if the threat was real, and the unthinkable happened during those two extra hours the flight was made to fly to Kolkata? This nation would have been the laughing stock of the world.

But then, when have these politicians ever really cared about the nation.

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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