Nearly three weeks after an Air India (AI) flight’s tyre burst on touchdown at Mumbai airport, forcing the emergency evacuation of 160 passengers, the the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has asked the airline to send a report on the upkeep of its Classic Airbus fleet – the oldest in the airline. After the incident on March 15, Hindustan Times had reported that VT-ESL, the aircraft involved in the safety scare, belonged to the fleet which is more than two decades old.
Sources from the aviation safety regulator said the brake fan - a crucial aircraft component that protects the plane’s brakes from overheating - was not fully functional in last month’s incident. “We have ordered a fast-track inquiry on the serviceability of brake fan. The reports are awaited,” said a senior DGCA official requesting anonymity.
More than two dozen passengers on board this AI flight had to see the airport doctor with complaints of stiff back and a few others had been bruised while sliding off the inflated escape chutes.
Mumbai airport staffers had reported a thick cloud of oil fumes and sparks coming off the landing gear of the aircraft that had joined the AI fleet in 1994.
While the AI spokesperson did not respond to HT’s calls, Ashwani Lohani, the airline’s chairman and managing director, said it was incorrect to link the incident to the airline’s engineering upkeep. “The final analysis is still awaited,” said Lohani.
This is the second time in less than a year that AI’s airbus fleet had come under the DGCA scanner. Last September, the DGCA had ordered an engineering audit of the fleet following two back-to-back cases of minor fire in AI planes. The first incident involved a flight from Varanasi that made an emergency landing in Delhi owing to hydraulic failure followed by minor fire caused by the overheating of its nose-wheel rim. The subsequent incident was a tail-pipe fire reported at the Mumbai airport ostensibly owing to excess fuel in the aircraft.
The Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association (ICPA), an 800-odd member pilots’ union in AI had also complained about the poor condition of the airbus fleet following the Germanwings tragedy wherein an Airbus 320 aircraft had crashed into the French Alps killing all the 150 passengers on board.