June 29, 2008

Mumbai Aircraft Lost Radio Contact: AI

MUMBAI: "The aircraft going beyond Mumbai can be attributed only to loss of radio contact," said a statement issued by Air India in response to a report carried by TOI on Thursday on an AI flight which overflew Mumbai even as its pilots snoozed in the cockpit.

The report had stated that two pilots of Air India flight 612 from Jaipur to Mumbai had, earlier this month, dozed off and overflown their destination. The incident took place on June 4, just after 7 am, when the pilots took off from Jaipur and put the aircraft on autopilot, sources said. Prior to this flight the pilots had operated a Dubai-Jaipur flight.

An Air India spokesperson said that the commander and his co- pilot had availed of 24 hours of rest in Dubai prior to operating the flight and so there was no question of the crew being fatigued. Air India said that its pilots were not asleep and that "(they) had temporarily lost contact with the ATC and therefore the aircraft had strayed 10-15 kilometres away from Mumbai". The airline also stated that the aircraft "going beyond Mumbai can be attributed only to loss of radio contact".

Reacting to the statement, the commander of a Gulf-based airline said, "In India, when the pilot recognises that he has a communications failure he has to squawk 7600 on the transponder and the ATC would have cleared all aircraft below the flight level of this aircraft and he would have landed. I don't understand why the pilot did not even commence descent into Mumbai and went off 10-15 kilometres. No one ever does that." He added that by the time one becomes a commander, he\she has landed at the main airport of the country at least 1,000 times, if not more. "If AI says that the aircraft went beyond Mumbai due to loss of radio contact then what they are saying is that their pilots are not adequately trained."

Said another commander, "These days when the fuel cost is so high it's strange that a pilot should come overhead Mumbai flying at a high altitude and not even commence descent and just go on for ten to 15 miles."

The airline also said that the pilots were not woken up by the SELCAL buzzer. However, a top official of Mumbai Air Traffic Control confirmed that SELCAL was indeed used to establish contact with the pilots. SELCAL, or selective calling, sounds like a buzzer in an aircraft's cockpit when the ATC dials the exclusive four-alphabet combo assigned to an aircraft.

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