Safety concerns rekindled for AI's A-320 fleet!
After the incident of 7 September, the pilot-association's issues of safety for the old Airbus-320 fleet of Air-India have surfaced again. This has triggered a debate regarding safety-concerns for passengers who have been complaining for a while. Union Minister, Mahesh Sharma has refuted charges that Air-India was flying "faulty aircrafts" by ratifying that the incident did not take place due to "safety issues".
A brief history of A-320's journey in India!
The first batch of Airbus A-320 started joining Indian-Airlines in 1989. After one of the planes from A-320 fleet crashed in Bengaluru in 1990, the fleet was grounded following debates over "fly-by-wire" technology. These planes were finally cleared to fly again for Air-India in December 1990. Currently, Air-India has seven Airbus A-320 in its fleet which are more than 20 years old.
The Airbus A-320 family
The Airbus A-320 family are short-mediam range, narrow-body commercial passenger twin-engine jet airlines which includes A-319, A-320 and A-321 aircrafts. Air-India has only 52 aircrafts available for use inspite of having a fleet of 64 in the A-320 family.
A-320 faces wheel-snag!
Air-India's first batch of Airbus A-320 (26-year-old) flight from Delhi to Vadodara flew back to Delhi on an emergency landing as it faced a wheel-snag. The 1989 made aircraft's left-side main landing-gear got stuck. The crew operating the A-320 fleet have been complaining about its low-functionality for a long time. The reported problems were problematic weather-radar, non-functional auxiliary power and probability of hydraulic failure.
Withered aircraft crashes
A 24-year-old German Airbus-320 crashed in the French Alps on a flight from Barcelona to Dusseldorf. Almost all lives were lost in the plane-crash. The age of the aircraft which crashed, raised safety concerns and arguments began about Air-India's A-320 fleet, some of which age upto 26 year old. AI flies the oldest Airbus A-320's in the world and therefore were subjected to debates.
Pilot-union raises safety warnings!
The Indian Commercial Pilot's-Association(ICPA) from Indian-Airlines and Air-India had raised several crucial questions complaining about the 26-year-old Airbus A-320's to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation(DGCA) Chief, M Sathiyavathi. According to ICPA, the A-320's "are operated with repetitive snags endangering flight safety" and therefore, DGCA should not permit the operation of such "lethal snag-prone" aircrafts. AI maintained that the aircrafts are certified and safe.
Injuries caused while emergency landing of Airbus-320
The Airbus A320 aircraft of Air-India (AI) which operated the flight AI-405 from Varanasi with 149 passengers onboard developed a hydraulic problem enroute. Keeping with safety-rules, an emergency landing at Indira Gandhi International Airport (Delhi) was followed by an evacuation program. After the emergency-landing, one of the wheels had caught fire. Amidst the panic and rush during the evacuation-program, 5-7 passengers sustained minor injuries.
Better planning is the need of the hour!
Aviation regulator, DGCA has yet denied any fault on the part of Air-India in continuing to fly old planes ratifying that they are air-worthy. It has ordered a detailed investigation on the incident of 7 September. Air-India's Chairman, MD Ashwani Lohani should immediately review maintenance and safety protocol of the Airbus A-320 fleet. Lohani had already laid out some plans regarding the same, previously.
What is to be done?
Lohani has asked engineering staff to ensure that atleast four more Airbus-320 family aircraft are made available by the end of this month so that old planes can be discarded. He has tasked engineering subsidiary AIESL to draw a plan of spending $300 million raised through ECB's to be deployed in maintenance of AI's fleet. He also wants a thorough plan for Nagpur's MRO-unit.
The failed turaround plan!
As per the turnaround plan of the government, Air-India should have 72 narrow-body aircrafts in its fleet by now. It has been looking to lease 19 (including 8 A-320's) but 14 of these may arrive only by 2017 which is too late.