Nearly halfway into its journey to London on Wednesday morning, an Air India flight carrying around 240 passengers from Mumbai had to return after a cabin crew member spotted a rat on board.
Airline sources said the Dreamliner aircraft which left Mumbai at 7am was in the Tehran airspace when the crew had a ‘fleeting glance’ of a rodent in the pantry.
According to safety rules laid down by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the pilot got in touch with the Mumbai air traffic control (ATC) tower and decided to turn back. The flight arrived in the city around 12.50 pm, ATC officials said.
After passengers got off the flight, the aircraft was taken to a remote parking bay for an inspection and a fumigation exercise was prescribed by the safety regulator, airport officials said.
An AI spokesperson confirmed the flight returned to the city as a “preventive measure” but the presence of a rodent on board was being investigated. The passengers were given another aircraft for the journey to London.
“AI 131 Mumbai to London returned to Mumbai today due to suspected rat sighting. Though the presence of the rodent was not confirmed but keeping passenger safety in mind, the aircraft was brought back. Air India gives utmost importance to safety. Our engineering team is investigating the incident. A standby aircraft was made available to fly the passengers to London. The aircraft with the suspected rodent will be fumigated as per procedure in such cases of rodent sighting,” said the airline spokesperson.
On July 30, a Milan-bound AI flight returned to the Delhi airport two hours after it took off, owing to the suspected presence of a rat on board.
Air safety experts, however, questioned the pilots’ decision to fly all the way back to Mumbai. “The DGCA has a ‘no-go’ rule on rodents sighted on board which means that the cockpit crew should land at the nearest airport to offload passengers,” said a former member of the Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council (CASAC), a government-appointed independent air safety panel formed after the Air India Express crash at Mangalore in 2010.
Airline sources added that at least two meals were served on board during the six-hour flight. “The breakfast was served soon after take-off. And lunch was served after the flight turned back. Assuming the flight was diverted citing safety concerns of food contamination, it would not serve the purpose,” said a senior AI cabin crew requesting anonymity.