Air Marshal Ashok Goel (Retd.)
PVSM AVSM VM
11, Silver State, Pilibhit Byepass Road,
Bareilly-243005 (U.P.) INDIA
Mob: 9411900090, 09999722636
HOW SAFE ARE YOU WHEN YOU FLY?
Despite the ghastly Manglore crash, India’s skies have luckily been safe. But, unknown to you, airlines are constantly bending the rules and playing with your life.
How safe is it to fly in India? In the immediate aftermath of the May 22 air crash in Manglore, in which Air India Express Flight No. 182 from Dubai overshot the runway, exploded into a ball of fire in the gorge below and killed 158 of the 166 people on board, the temptation to sound alarmist is only nature. For a decade, the Indian skied had been free of any catastrophic incident, even as the number of road and rail accidents registered sharp increases. It was, therefore, considered all right to assume that our aviation sector was completely air-worthy and that the rapid mushrooming of low-cost carriers had only brought air travel within the reach of those who earlier could not even consider flying as an option.
POST-2004, Indian aviation has swung from one extreme to the other. Domestic travel has tripled in volume, while international travel has more than doubled. Passenger load has increased fourfold from 10.5 million passengers in 1997 to 40 million in 2008-09. From 175 aircraft in 2004, we now have 380 aircraft. The size and scale of the business has changed.
The phenomenal growth in Indian aviation is reflected in the load on Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport. It now handling over 700 flights a day on an average, from the 77 it was handling in 2002.
Air Traffic Control (ATC)
GLOBAL research has shown that nearly 70 percent of all air accidents occur due to human error, involving, pilots, maintenance crew and the ATC. ATC system in the West can enable a take-off and landing every minute “ACTS across India”, says Kaul, “are clearly overworked.”
THIS has emerged as a major area of concern. Pilots are clocking in more hours because of commercial considerations overtaking all else. While pilots have different permutations and combinations of rest periods drawn up according to their schedules, operators often compromise on this.
Quick turnaround time
In airports like Srinagar, the minimum required turnaround time is 40 minutes- the time an aircraft’s tyres take to release the heat they absorb on landing at high altitudes. Many private airlines, however, have far lesser turnaround time.
IT is well known that the financial health of an airline company depends upon the maintenance of its aircraft. The better you keep your aircraft, the more you get out of it in the long run. While most factors in aviation are looked at from a revenue generating aspect, maintenance is the only component which is not. Massive expenditure is involved to have a workable aircraft.
WHILE some airports are termed difficult due to the terrain they may be located in, others become difficult to operate in because of adverse weather conditions such as shallow fog, heavy rainfall or wind direction. Nothing illustrates this better than the plight of national capital during the dense winter fog. Short runways too are very common across the country, making landing a very well-calculated process, with little margin for error. Another factor that often goes unnoticed is how safety considerations often become secondary during the planning phase of an airport, and political and business pressures take over.
FROM pilots to engineers, the aviation industry is facing a manpower shortage, exerting a pressure on existing resources. “It is estimated that the direct and indirect economic impact of this sector could be employment for 2.6 million people by 2020.” According to report by CAPA titled ‘addressing the skills crisis in Indian aviation’. To quote from the report: “Education and training have virtually been an afterthought in Indian aviation. The industry has muddled through by deploying as hoc measures to fight fires. This approach will neither deliver a professional, sustainable or a safe industry.”
Changes in safety regulations and policies
CHANGES in aviation have to begin at the top. The regulatory agency responsible for enforcing a global standard of airline operations-the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation- needs a revamp to keep up with the current boom in the aviation sector.
Adapted from Outlook Magazine dated June 07
Observations and Comments
The accident of Air India Flight no. 182 at Manglore (on 26 July 2010) shocked the nation and created a doubt, “How safe are you when you fly. Aviation as a profession or as a mode of transportation has been the safest and would continue to be so. As per the Govt published statistics 1, 30,000 lives are lost every year which amounts to 356 deaths per day in road accidents alone.
The profession of aviation is a highly skilled activity the managers the operators are to display highest standards of professionalism in managing its affair.
Infrastructure and Manpower
Undoubtedly we are growing from strength to strength. The recent opening of T-3 terminal at IGIA at Delhi is an example of our vision and its implementation. Even the aircraft strength is gradually growing which is now 380 air craft will grow to 500 by 2012. (Which is against 700 of China and 7000 in USA as per 2008 statistics?)
We have to keep the manpower argumentation in all spheres of aviation activity i.e. airport management, maintenance, Air traffic controllers and the pilots to keep pace with the infrastructure development including the faster induction of aircraft. Some how or the other our manpower training programs fall short of argumentation of aircraft and ground infrastructure. The result is shortcuts for initial training, continuation training and advance training. Thus we land up in short fall, and result is compromising on safely standards (for examples increasing the age limit of the pilots enhancing FDTL, burdening the maintenance and Cabin Crews in extended duty hours). And the employees do accept and enjoy the extra buck.
Air Traffic Control Vis Viz Frequency of Flights
Often it has been stated that our controllers are over burdened. About 6-7 years back the busy airports handled less than 100 flights a day where as they are handling 700 flights a day. The busy airports in the world (Hethrow- London, Kennedy Airport- New York, Only France, Athens-Greece) handle nearly 1400 flights a day i.e. one flight per minute. If we are planning to create world class airports we have to train world class controllers as well. Our airports like Delhi & Mumbai now and Chennai, Kolkutta, Hyderabad and Bangalore later could reach those standers in years to come.
Difficult and Dangerous Airport
No airports (airfield) can be termed as risky or dangerous. DGCA has listed Leh, Port Blair, Mangalore, Kozikode Lengpui as risky runways. There are many more air fields which could be termed even more risky. (i.e. Thoise, Dumduma, Carnicobar, Vizag in this list). None of these air fields are risky or dangerous. They throw a different kind of challenge where the margin of error is some what negligible. The management and the operators have to lay down norms in terms of types of aircraft to operate, all up weight limitation (AUW) pilots experience, weather limitations (IFR and VFR). If required operator is to take care of referring to aircraft manuals and check on WAT (weight altitudes and temperature) limitations before undertaking a flight. As these are, three primary factors which affect the aircraft performance and operating parameters. Air lines in their eagerness to make fast buck ignore some of these basic safety factors while operating at these so called dangerous risky runways. No airfields are unsafe to operate if operations are managed professionally.
Training and Attitude
The objective of basic training, continuation training and advance and applied training should never be neglected at the cost of safety measures. The time has come for civil aviation to have doctors, specialist in aviation medicine and psychotherapist on their panels to train cockpit and cabin crews and maintenance personnel. This is equally applicable for ATC controllers and others who are managing aviation as ground support system.
Regulatory Body and Quality Control
In Indian context DGCA has been all in one, they are regulatory body, inspection body, accident investigation agency as well. We need to establish, independent inspection and accident investigation bodies. We need to create a Directorate General of Inspection and Safety and independent accident investigation authority like NTSB-National Transportation Safety Board. As the future of the civil aviation is bright (we are expected to have nearly 1000 commercial aircraft by the 2020). All the measures suggested above would go a long way, in enhancing civil aviation image in the country and nobody should question “How Safe Are you When you fly?
Air Marshal Ashok Goel served the IAF for forty years. He is an experienced transport pilot with more than 10,000 in flying to his credit. He has landed at all the so called risky and dangerous airfields (Aircraft flown to these airfields included, IL-76, B-707, Gulf stream-III types of aircraft).