A probe by the aviation regulator has found several safety lapses by Air India staff while evacuating 213 passengers from a Mumbai-Riyadh flight after a fire broke out in the aircraft on September 4, 2009.
Twenty-one passengers suffered minor injuries during the evacuation.
In the report released last month, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) concluded that the AI's aircraft maintenance engineer failed to notice a fuel leak from the left side of aircraft before clearing it for take-off. "The engineer had left the bay without giving the final take-off clearance because it was raining," the report said.
Second, the airline ground staff were unable to report the fire to the pilots because the cockpit crew had switched off the radio communication equipment, violating the airline's operation manual. Worse, both the pilots left the aircraft before the evacuation process was complete and not a single cabin crew member was deployed at the end of the inflated emergency slides to assist passengers.
"It could have been dangerous. Some passengers were running towards to active runway close to the bay where the evacuation took place," said a DGCA official requesting anonymity,
The report also blamed the airline engineers for failing to check the aircraft's fuel channel during routine inspection. "Constant wear and tear caused massive fuel leakage and fire," said the report.
An airport follow-me vehicle informed the air traffic controller on duty about the fuel leak but he wasted significant time in alerting the pilots, the report stated. "As per rules, the controller should have called the aircraft crew by its registration number but it kept calling the flight number," read the report.
The cockpit crew switched off the aircraft engine but was late to start the evacuation process. The cabin crew also overlooked hand signals about the fire from the ground staff.