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DGCA withdraws report on Kingfisher plane crash-cover-up or shoddy investigation?

Post the Air India Express crash at Mangalore, there have been calls across the country for greater transparency within the administration, policy, regulatory, and investigative units of India’s civil aviation system.

With the exception of the famous incident involving President Pratibha Patil’s helicopters in a near-miss with an Air India aircraft at Mumbai, with a view to increasing transparency, for the first time, India’s regulator and investigator the Directorate General of Civil Aviation put up investigation reports on its website which did not involve the loss of life. One was regarding the crash of a Kingfisher Airlines ATR-72-500 aircraft VT-KAC at Mumbai on November 10, 2009, the other was concerning the sudden loss of altitude of an Air India Express Boeing 737-800 aircraft VT-AXJ en-route from Dubai, UAE to Pune, India on May 26 this year.

Yet, before most media in India could react, the DGCA pulled the Kingfisher report of its website. Luckily, the Indian Express reported most of the pertinent parts of the report. As per the Indian Express the DGCA has faulted the crew of the airline and ATC officials.

In its report, the DGCA says that the crew was not qualified to fly into the Mumbai airport during the shortened runway operations as the commander had not been a ‘training captain’. The crew did not take a decision to ‘go around’, despite an unstabilised approach at the time of landing. It adds that there was a breakdown in the ‘crew resource management’ as the commander —a 47-year-old veteran — did not conduct the correct briefing at Mumbai and Bhavnagar and the 34-year-old co-pilot, who was making her first landing on the shortened runway at Mumbai, did not offer the correct feedback to ‘go around’ at a crucial juncture. It has called on the airline to impart corrective training to the crew. DGCA has also pulled up the ATC for not warning the Kingfisher commander that a previous Air India flight had aquaplaned. Aquaplaning is a phenomenon when there is a thin film of water between the aircraft tyres and the runway, which reduces friction. The report says that the ATC officer had admitted to the DGCA team that he had not understood the word ‘aquaplane’, and not passed on the information to the Kingfisher commander.

The very next day, the Times of India reported about the withdrawal of the Kingfisher report, suggesting the report was withdrawn due to excessive technical faults and incorrect information. The paper also suggests that the Kingfisher “incident” was not classified, by thye DGCA, in contravention of ICAO rules an “accident”, despite a significant damage to the aircraft hull. The Times of India report goes on to suggest that this was done to benefit Kingfisher Airlines which would have had to pay higher insurance premiums if it had suffered an “accident”.

The Air India Express VT-AXJ report can be read here in PDF format. The report concludes the dive and loss of altitude occurred due to the incorrect handling of the flight control column by the co-pilot in automated mode and his lack of knowledge on how to correct the situation.

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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