The Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopter belonging to the President’s convoy that narrowly missed colliding with an Air India flight at Mumbai airport in February 2009 had landed without clearance from the Air Traffic Control (ATC), a government-appointed probe panel has found.
The helicopter, Pratap 2, part of a convoy of three choppers, had on February 9 landed in the path of the A-I flight that had 155 passengers on board. The pilot of the passenger aircraft, charging for take-off, spotted the helicopter and brought the plane to a halt barely 40 metres away from the chopper.
The Civil Aviation Ministry set up a committee soon after the incident to probe the reasons for the near-collision. The committee comprised officials from the Directorate of Civil Aviation, the Airport Authority of India and the IAF.
“Pratap 2 [touched down] without a landing clearance from the ATC even before the Pratap formation reported the finals,” said the report released on Wednesday. In simple terms, this means the helicopter, the second in line among the three, landed before the chopper leading the convoy had obtained a go-head from the ATC.
However, the IAF denied the chopper’s pilot was to blame. “We maintain that the mix-up happened because of a lack of communication between the ATC handling arrivals and the one handling departures,” Wing Commander TK Singha, spokesman for IAF, said. The report also said the standard procedure for handling VVIP operations was unsatisfactory.
“There is difference in opinion between the IAF and the Airport Authority of India over the standard procedure to be followed for helicopter operations,” the report noted. Wing Commander Singha said such cases could not be ruled out in the future unless a clear procedure were laid down.
Mumbai handles over 70 per cent of the helicopter traffic in the country. The Ministry of Civil Aviation is planning dedicated chopper corridors 15 nautical miles away from airports.