Crash course: Lax safety behind near-misses in air

Airlines compromise on safety all too often, reveals RTI

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Sweta Ranjan | January 20, 2012



The directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA), in a reply to an RTI query, has substantiated its concerns over the safety standards in the airlines industry.

The reply, accessed by Governance Now, indicts several airlines for lax safety arrangements which led to as many as 18 near-miss (mid air safe-distance lapses) incidents in 2011 and 22 in the year before. It needs to be noted that these are official figures while the situation could be much more grim.

The DGCA had earlier reported that the safety practices by most major airlines were not up to the mark."One airline does not report incidents that compromise on safety, another does not have the technology for two-way communication with its planes, the third appoints a top operations officer who is not a pilot and all Indian carriers face a serious shortage of aviation safety officials mandatorily required," it said in its audit.

An aviation expert says, “These near-misses can’t be ignored as they can be precursors of future mishaps. Officially, there were 21 near-miss incidents in 2005, which went up to 26 in 2006 and if figures were still the same in 2010, then the regulator needs to wake up and pull up the airlines.”

A near-miss (also called air miss) occurs when two planes flying lower than 29,000 feet violate the mandatory 1,000-feet deviation limit.

In the disastrous mid-air collisions of 1996, two passenger aircraft of Saudi Airlines and Air Kazakhstan crashed near Delhi airport killing all 350 passengers.

The pilots blame these air misses on the fatigue. A Jet Airways pilot says, “It is strange that the Flight and Duty Time Limitations (FDTL) rules for Indian and American pilots vary greatly. While the American civil aviation regulator has mandated that eight hours of flying is the maximum its pilots should do at night as fatigue sets in after that point, in India, according to the new rules, pilots do not get fatigued till they have completed 10 hours of flying during the night.”

Industry observers say that there could be a major disaster waiting to happen if the airlines lower the threshold for flight operational quality assurance (FOQA). FOQA is a technique to discover new ways to upgrade safety by capturing and analyzing data generated by a flying aircraft.

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