The blame game continued for the second consecutive day over the near-miss between the Air India flight carrying 150 passengers and an Indian Air force (IAF) chopper.
Sources in the Directorate General Of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Air Traffic Control (ATC) were unanimous is pointing the finger at the IAF chopper, an MI-17, while the air force chief blamed the ATC for allotting two different frequencies to the chopper and the passenger plane.
Meanwhile, DGCA sources also said that the pilot who landed ahead of schedule was not qualified to be a part of the VIP Squadron. “Pilots of a VIP squadron are trained to follow a particular procedure for take-offs and landing since VIPs like the President is allowed priority landing in all Indian airports.” The IAF, however, rubbished the claim saying that all the three pilots were certified.
ATC and DGCA sources continue to maintain that the chopper’s pilot landed three minutes ahead of schedule, at 9:17 am. As per normal procedure, VIP convoys move in a formation. The ATC communicates with one pilot known as the “squadron commander,” who leads the formation.
“The formation of three choppers was supposed to approach the airfield from the east. The MI-17 chopper however, took a shortcut and entered from the south, and landed before time,” said a senior ATC official requesting anonymity.
A DGCA source, concurred, “The chopper arrived ahead of schedule. The squadron leader maintained communication with the ATC. The remaining two choppers landed as per the schedule.”
The air force chief came to the rescue of his pilots, and said that the officers at the ATC had given the requisite clearance to his pilots to land. “The helicopters were asked to land in sequence 2, 1 and 3 on runway 27,” Air Chief Marshal Fali H. Major told reporters at Aero India 2009, an international air show, in Bangalore. “They were specifically cleared by the Bombay ATC,” he added. “When they were cleared, they came and landed.”
The IAF chief said that the near miss had occurred because the passenger jet and the chopper were operating on two different radio frequencies. “They were not aware of the Air India aircraft because it was on different frequency,” he said. “So there was no contact between the two (IAF chopper and Air India jet). Now, why this happened (two radio frequencies) is for the air traffic controllers to answer. I think the DGCA must fine-tune its procedures.”
DGCA chief Nasim Zaidi was not reachable, despite several attempts. Civil aviation ministry spokesperson, Maushumi Chakravarthy, said, “The near-miss probe is on top priority. The DGCA has not submitted the report yet.”
(With inputs from B.R. Srikanth in Bangalore)