Vistara, Air India flights narrowly avoid deadly mid-air collision
Over 200 passengers narrowly escaped a deadly accident when two Vistara and Air India planes flying in the opposite directions missed each other by seconds. The "closest shave witnessed in Indian skies in years" happened over Mumbai on February 7. Two Vistara pilots have been grounded. Prima facie, the happenings were a result of them not adhering to air traffic control's (ATC) instructions.
Apparent confusion between ATC and VIstara pilots
On Wednesday evening, Air India's Mumbai-Bhopal flight AI-631 was at 27,000ft, while Vistara's Delhi-Pune UK-997 had reportedly been asked to stay at 29,000ft. However, UK-997 came down to 27,100ft. At one point, the vertical separation between the planes was just 100ft. The traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) alarms then went off in both the flights, and the pilots managed to avoid a collision.
Vistara sources claim pilots were following ATC's instructions
Vistara sources insisted the ATC had asked them to be at 27,000ft. "The resolution advisory got triggered due to conflicting traffic. Our pilot followed the standard operating procedure to avoid it," it said. Air India didn't officially comment, but a senior official said, "Our crew was acting just as it should have. There must have been some serious confusion between ATC and Vistara pilots."
24 near-miss incidents in 2016-17
This is the second near-miss incident in Maharashtra in two weeks. On January 28, an IndiGo and Emirates flights breached the minimum separation limit over Nagpur. Foreign pilots not understanding ATC's instructions, planes inadvertently flying at the same height, and increasing air traffic are common factors. All such incidents are investigated by the Airport Investigation Board and then reviewed by the DGCA.
DGCA steps up to prevent such incidents
As corrective steps, the DGCA has focused on counseling of ATC officers and pilots and conducting regular proficiency checks on them, modernizing infrastructure and services, and implementation of safety management system at airports. During 2015-17, about 1,000 ATC personnel were hired to address safety concerns. They are trained on simulators and "sensitized" on the subject. The latest incident is being probed.