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A FLYER'S TRAGEDY

Though the advent of automatic systems has improved flight safety – human error still poses mortal risk and can only be tackled by formalising and updating training methods

Despite being the most effective means of quick travel, in recent times, flying has become a nightmare with fatal incidents across the globe tarnishing people's faith. Globally, runway excursions and overruns are a major cause of accidents – and it also remains a significant problem in India. Though the aircraft industry has witnessed development – accidents have been a source of concern for the aviation sector. Meanwhile, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in its report has claimed that all necessary steps are being taken to curb accidents, ensuring the safety of passengers first.

The increasing frequency of these incidents is ruining the reputation of the aviation industry. Such grave incidents have not being rare, they are now quite regular – mostly due to the negligence of the staff and a lack of proper training. This has triggered a wave of fear among confident flyers.

"For auditing, I have to travel frequently to many foreign countries. Flying is the only mode of transportation available to me; but these incidents make me feel insecure until I land at my destination. Thankfully, I have been lucky with safe journeys so far," said Raghavendra*, an auditor.

Looking back, 2018 witnessed multiple occurrences of runway excursion and aircraft mishaps in India.

October 12, 2018

A Dubai-bound Air India Express plane, overloaded with 130 passengers, was flying at a speed of 250 kmph when its tyre hit the airport's Instrument Landing System (ILS) and brushed the airport wall, causing severe damage during its take-off at the international airport in Trichy (Tamil Nadu). According to an official statement issued by the airlines, the crew had reported that all systems were normal. The crew only realised the hit on the wall once the flight was at Tiruchirappalli – the flight was then diverted towards Mumbai. At that time, the flight was well over the Arabian Sea.

September 20, 2018

On September 20, another incident of aircraft negligence came to the fore after a Jet Airways flight was forced to make an emergency landing at Mumbai Airport due to a cabin pressurisation issue. The incident led to injuries among dozens of passengers – causing nose bleeds, ear bleeds – after the crew forgot to pressurise the cabin. The Jet Airways flight was on its way to Jaipur from Mumbai with 166 passengers. But just after five minutes onto the climb, oxygen masks dropped in the passenger cabin. The flight crew stopped the climb and descended back to 10,000 feet.

According to a DGCA report, 30 passengers had reported nose bleeds, few had ear bleeds and many were complaining of headaches, while about 10 passengers had been hospitalised for further check-up. The report also stated that during the climb, the crew forgot to select the bleed air switch due to which the cabin pressurisation could not be maintained. As a result, the oxygen masks were deployed automatically.

August 7, 2018

On August 7, when a Cessna 208B Grand Caravan of Supreme Airlines was landing, it suffered a runway excursion at Lalgarh Airport (Rajasthan), adding one more to the list of negligent incidents. The aircraft impacted a wall and sustained substantial damage. However, no injuries were reported. According to the pilot, there were birds present in the runway area.

June 28, 2018

This time, not a passenger plane but a chartered jet crashed into a construction site in a densely populated part of Mumbai's Ghatkopar area, killing five people including one on the ground. The 12-seater aircraft was carrying four people at the time of the crash. According to witnesses, they heard a loud blast as the aircraft smashed into a half-built concrete structure.

Global plane crashes

Not only in India but across the world, some heart-wrenching plane crashes have occured in 2018. On February 11, a domestic Russian passenger flight took off from Moscow for Orsk but never landed. Few minutes into the flight, the plane's speed started to fluctuate and, eventually, crashed leading to the death of all 71 people in the flight.

Just a week after this deadly incident took place, one more crash occurred in Iran. On February 18, a domestic Iranian passenger jet traveling from Tehran to Yasuj crashed into Iran's Zagros Mountains about an hour into its flight. Rescue helicopters did not find the plane for two days after the crash, but all 65 people on board were presumed dead as no traces of the passengers were found.

On March 12, a passenger plane flying from Bangladesh with 71 people crashed while landing at Nepal's Kathmandu Airport. 49 people were killed in the accident.

Aviation Safety Plan

To tackle the peril of airline mishaps, DGCA has chalked down a safety plan to ensure that passengers can fly without fear or hesitation. The authority has covered all possible angles including runway excursion and overruns, bird strikes and deficient maintenance.

According to the DGCA report, it is targeting eight State Safety Priorities including airborne conflict, controlled flight into terrain, runway excursions and overruns, wildlife and bird strikes, loss of control in flight, runway incursion and ramp safety, deficient maintenance, and aviation procedures and documentation.

"For each State Safety Priority, we have developed safety objectives; proposed desired safety outcome; developed a safety action plan and a number of Safety Performance Indicators (SPIs). In addition to focusing on State Safety Priorities, it is important that the effectiveness of key State Safety risk controls is measured and continuously improved," the report stated.

DGCA has adopted an appropriate safety culture to reduce risk across the aviation sector but it still continues to be a major challenge. The safety objectives are aimed at progressing the development of a safety culture among all service providers and their staffs.

The report further stated that the sharing and exchange of safety information is a prime component of state objectives. In order to enhance the sharing and exchange of information, DGCA communicates and disseminates safety information as well as safety analysis – both internally and externally, which identifies and mitigates safety risks.

*Name changed on request

Madhupriti Mitra

Madhupriti Mitra

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