Two expat GoAir pilots operating a Mumbai-Goa flight (G8 141) that nearly collided into a SpiceJet flight on October 22 have been taken off flying duty. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the safety regulator, told the budget carrier to bench the crew as the preliminary investigations showed that the foreign pilots might have misread instructions from the air traffic control (ATC) tower, possibly because they had problems understanding the language.
“The crew had some interpretation issues. We have asked the airline not to put them on the flight roster until these concerns are sorted,” said a senior DGCA official who did not wish to be named.
A GoAir spokesperson did not confirm or deny the benching of the crew. “DGCA is investigating the matter. We will comment on it after the investigation is complete,” said the spokesperson.
Sources from the airlines said that the aircraft assigned to operate G8 141 was acquired on wet lease from a Polish company. Wet lease means that the plane was hired along with the crew. “That explains the communication glitch,” said a senior ATC official.
The Goa ATC was navigating flight movement through verbal communication when the incident took place as the airport’s radar services were down for maintenance. The SpiceJet flight to Hyderabad had barely taken off when it’s pilots received an emergency collision alert from an in-built device.
The alert came from the Traffic Collision Advisory System (TCAS), an in-built device which throws collision warnings to aircraft mid-air. The TCAS issues two kinds of warnings — traffic advisory and resolution advisory — the first indicates a plane at a vertical distance of 35 to 40 seconds, while the latter is issued when two mid-air planes are separated by 25 to 30 seconds. In this case, it was the latter. The resolution advisory also means the pilot is asked to take immediate evasive action to avoid a collision, which happened in this case.
DGCA data on near-misses showed that there were 129 such mid-air scares, also known as airprox or air proximity, in the aviation parlance between 2011 and the first half of this year.