The senior pilot flying Air India's first Dreamliner passenger service on September 18 had stepped out of the cockpit mid-air for an hour to socialise with passengers, leaving an inadequately trained pilot alone in the cockpit to handle the Boeing 787, says a complaint received by the aviation safety regulator.
Sent on February 15, the complaint seeks an investigation into the incident as a pilot is allowed to leave the cockpit only to visit the toilet.
According to the complaint, a copy of which is available with Hindustan Times, Captain AS Soman, Air India's director of flight training, spent time outside the cockpit interacting with passengers on the Delhi-Chennai flight talking about the new aircraft.
"Aviation safety rules do not permit the commander of a flight to socialise with passengers when the aircraft is airborne," the complaint says.
An Air India spokesperson agreed that Captain Soman left the cockpit and interacted with passengers, but denied any safety violation. "The co-pilot was fully trained to operate the flight," the spokesperson said.
However, according to rules laid down by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the aviation regulator, a pilot's training on a new aircraft is incomplete without a stipulated period of line training. In this case, the co-pilot needed to do at least six landings under the supervision of a trainer rank pilot. But since this was the first passenger flight by the Dreamliner, the line training was not completed.
A government-appointed independent air-safety panel, the Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council, which was set up after the Air India Express crash at Mangalore in 2010, has also asked the DGCA to probe the case. "It appears to be a serious violation by a senior pilot. So, it should be investigated properly," said Captain Mohan Ranganathan, a CASAC member.
HT made several calls to DGCA chief Arun Mishra for his comments. We also sent him a text message, but did not get a response.