A possible Air France-like disaster was averted by a firm Air India pilot. But instead of lauding him, the Air India management grounded him and stopped his salary.
The pilot, Captain NK Beri was grounded after he refused to fly flight number AI-822 from Riyadh to Mumbai after the aircraft developed a technical snag on May 27.
The pilot declined to operate the aircraft with over 300 passengers on board despite Air India’s top officials mounting pressure on him.
A baffled Air India, which feels the airline “incurred heavy monetary losses and was subjected to an embarrassment” due to the episode, has issued a show cause notice to Capt Beri, the captain of the Boeing 747-400.
The airline has stopped payment of his salary and declared him “not available for flying duties”.
A show cause notice issued by Air India executive director (Operations-II) Capt Rakesh Anand said the action on the part of Capt Beri caused 24 hours delay in the departure of the flight from Riyadh.
Capt Beri told HT he had refused to operate the flight in the night with landing gear down, said “I didn’t want to risk the lives of so many passengers. Flying an aircraft with landing gear down at night is against the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) regulations.”
A senior technical examiner of Boeing 747-400 aircraft, told HT on condition of anonymity, “When the gear is down, the aircraft’s performance gets severely compromised — it can’t go to higher altitudes, fuel consumption increases manifold, speed gets considerably reduced and it’s not easy to avoid harsh weather conditions. Nobody should insist that a pilot fly such aircraft at night.”
The flight developed a problem in the landing gear soon after take-off. The pilot-in-command, Capt Beri, informed Air Traffic Control that the aircraft's landing gear was not going up and he would have to return to Riyadh.
Surprisingly, he was asked to bring the flight to Mumbai with all passengers on board by Air India officials. But Capt Beri refused.
The episode, which took place four days before an Air France aircraft from Rio de Janeiro to Paris crashed, killing 228 passengers on board on May 31, and has raised questions about Air India’s concern for passenger safety.
Air India chairman-cum-managing director Arvind Jadhav, 53, was not available for comment.