Age gap between pilots led to Air India Express plane ending up in open drain
A senior male pilot who was 30 years older to his female co-pilot and refused to heed her suggestions or warnings was one of the reasons for Air India Express flight IX 452 from Abu Dhabi to Kochi with 102 passengers ending up in an open drain following a landing in heavy rain on September 4, 2017. The incident left three passengers with injuries and serious damage to the aircraft, especially the front landing gear that collapsed.
Now, to avoid a repeat of such an accident, aviation authorities have advised Air India Express to ensure pilots are not paired in a way that they have a wide age gap.
“There is not just one reason behind an accident. In the report, we tried to go to the exact details and found that probable cause of accident was incorrect judgement taken by PIC (pilot-in-command). Heavy rain and reduced visibility were contributory factors,” said a Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) official, who asked not to be named.
According to the report, which has been seen by HT, the co-pilot told her senior that she could not see runway markings and asked him to go extremely slow.
Moments later, she insisted that a “follow-me” vehicle — used to guide aircraft in cases of low visibility — be summoned.
“However, there was no response from PIC. At 2112 UTC, the aircraft took a 90m early turn before the Taxiway ‘F’... and entered into open rain water drain. PIC applied throttle three times for aircraft to come out of the drain, but aircraft stuck in the drain. Co-pilot requested PIC not to apply throttle,” said the report by DGCA.
In the report, the DGCA has highlighted that there was an age gap of over 30 years and a difference of 13,000 hours in the flight experience between the two pilots, and that runway markers were , as the co-pilot said, barely visible
“...The coordination was lacking from PIC’s side. PIC was found alcohol-positive twice and his licence was suspended by DGCA for 3 months from 09.01.2016. The pilot had operated previous flight a day before and as per his statement, he reached hotel around midnight and was not able to sleep. In cockpit voice recorder, there is noise of PIC yawning in the flight,” the report points out.
The Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) has now recommended that Air India Express issue a circular related to crew coordination, and mentioned in its analysis that both PIC and co-pilot were operating together for the first time.
Detailing the sequence of events, the report said the aircraft entered the open rainwater drain and the nose landing gear collapsed. The aircraft moved deeper into the drain and the main landing gears too were in the run-off. The plane eventually rested on its engines and the rear belly, with the main landing gears hovering in the air.
According to experts, crew management trainings that are mandated for airlines include how to tackle problems that can arise from wide differences of age and experience between flight crew. “The airline is suppose to minimise the age gap between pilot and co-pilot and if pilot is not listening to the co-pilot, irrespective of the age gap, then it shows lack of training and also inefficiency of DGCA which must conduct an audit to find these loopholes,” said Mohan Ranganathan, an aviation safety expert.
An Air India Express spokesperson said the recommendations will be implemented. “Our top management has taken note of the recommendations made by AAIB regarding the incident involving aircraft VT-AYB at Cochin International Airport on 04.09.2017. AAIB has made safety recommendations which are to be implemented by various agencies including DGCA, Cochin International Airport Limited, AAI and Air India Express. Out of the 10 safety recommendations, two relate to Air India Express and these shall be duly implemented,” said PG Prageesh, chief of corporate communications, Air India Express.