This could have been one of the worst air disasters in recent years. An Air France Cargo and an Air India plane were on a collision course on one of Delhi airport’s runways on Saturday morning. The alert Air-India pilot aborted take-off at the last moment, saving the day and the lives of over 100 passengers and the crew.
The incident took place at 6.40 a.m. on runway 2910. An Air France Cargo plane from Paris had landed on the runway and was rolling towards the taxiway. Before the aircraft could vacate the runway, the ATC cleared Air-India’s flight 746 for take-off. The flight had landed from Dubai and was headed to Lucknow with some 100 passengers.
Sources said the Air France Cargo aircraft was yet to reach the end of the runway when the Air-India flight was asked by the ATC to take off. The aircraft came on to the runway and stepped up its throttle when its pilot spotted the Air France plane.
“The Air-India pilot abandoned take-off. An inquiry has been ordered,” said a spokesperson for the Delhi International Airport Limited.
Officials described the escape as providential. “The pilot aborted the flight at the right moment. It would have been difficult to stop the aircraft if it had gathered momentum,” said an official.
The Air Traffic Control (ATC) has ordered an inquiry into the incident. The report is to be submitted by Monday, the spokesperson said. This will be followed by a Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) inquiry. The DGCA is the body responsible for aviation security in the country.
Sources said it was “clearly the ATC’s fault”. At the Delhi airport, there are two frequencies each for the two runways — a ground frequency and an ATC frequency. One air traffic controller mans each frequency. In the present case, there was no overlap. Both the aircraft were on the same frequency and handled by the same traffic controller. “Two different traffic controllers may have issued the instructions. But even this is unpardonable,” said an official. Was it because of inexperience? The Airports Authority of India had recently inducted a batch of fresh traffic controllers.