The tail of a Patna-bound Jet Airways plane clipped the starboard wing of the airline’s flight for Srinagar when both aircraft were taxiing for take-off at the New Delhi airport on Sunday afternoon.
The 260 passengers and crew in the planes are safe, but they survived a major scare as the wings of an aircraft carry large quantities of highly-inflammable jet fuel that can explode during a collision and reduce the flight into a fireball.
This is the first case in many years of two aircraft colliding at one of India’s busiest airports, which handled 82 flights in an hour last November, breaking its record of 77 take-offs and landing, according to civil aviation officials.
An airport official said the two planes were scheduled to depart five minutes apart from runway 29.
“Srinagar-bound flight 9W603 was moving towards the runway to take off at 2.50 pm with 129 passengers and eight crew members; as was flight 9W730 for Patna, scheduled to depart at 2.45pm, with 115 passengers and an eight-member crew. They hit each other on taxiway.”
The impact damaged the right main wing of the plane to Srinagar, and the other plane’s tail wing. An emergency was declared immediately after the accident, and lifesavers were scrambled.
But the damage was not much and the two aircraft moved back to the parking bay, without the help of tow trucks. Passengers were shifted to replacement planes. Flight operations at the airport were not affected by the 30-minute emergency.
Jet Airways said the crew members of both planes were grounded, pending an investigation. “All guests and crew are safe.”
The airport had its share of near-misses and accidents, the latest being the April 26 incident when a catering van crashed into an Air India plane and damaged its door.
Last August, an air traffic controller spotted an Indigo flight and an Air India plane approaching the same altitude over the city’s airspace. The Indigo flight was asked to turn left to avoid a collision, but that put the plane on the path of another aircraft of the same airline.
A last-minute adjustment averted a disaster that could have been similar to the Charkhi Dadri tragedy of 1996 in the city’s western parts when a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight and a Kazakhstan Airlines plane collided midair, killing 349 people on board both planes.
Flight traffic at the Capital’s airport is growing at around 20% each year, as have the number of alarming incidents such as planes straying into each other’s paths — on the runway or midair.
Last year, there were 32 cases of near-misses. An increasing number of pilots, about 150, had been suspended for violating safety protocols.
“During taxiing, an aircraft is supposed to maintain a particular distance in accordance with directions from the air traffic controller. An inquiry committee will investigate how Sunday’s incident happened? It could be miscommunication,” said an official with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
Till the damaged parts were repaired and the DGCA cleared both aircraft to resume operation, they will remain grounded, the official with the aviation regulator said.