Investigation of Helicopter VT-PHB Mumbai accident, key evidence concealed

On 11th Dec 2016, the Robinson R44 helicopter owned by Aman Aviation Aerospace Solutions Pvt. Ltd. got airborne from Juhu airport on a joy ride on around Mumbai. The helicopter was 06 minutes into the flight at 500 feet above ground level (AGL) when the pilot intimated the air traffic control regarding his intention of a forced landing at Powai area due to a clutch failure. The helicopter lost height hit a bunch of trees and caught fire.

There were 3 passengers and one pilot on board. In the accident, 2 passengers and 1 pilot died. 1 passenger received serious injuries. Whereas the final investigation report states that the probable cause of the accident was due to the reported clutch failure, the cause of the failure could not be determined. However, new evidence clearly establishes the cause of the failure to be due to worn out and damaged V-belt. The investigation has attempted to conceal this crucial evidence.

The probable cause as per the final report was the failure of the clutch assembly.

Whereas the probable cause is stated to be the clutch mechanism as shown above, the component was not sent to the manufacturer to determine the reasons for failure. The reason for failure as per the final report was unknown.

The V belt which transfers the engine power to the link to the main rotor of the helicopter as per the investigation report was physically normal. However, the photographs in the final report were enlarged using technology and some glaring facts were revealed.

The final report has concealed a number of evidence and facts in order to allegedly protect the operator. The probable cause of the accident was due to failure of the V Belts due to improper maintenance practices of the operator and poor oversight of the operator’s operations and maintenance activities by the regulator.

Kozhikode plane crash: All you need to know about ‘tricky’ tabletop runways

At least 18 people were killed and many injured when the Air India Express flight from Dubai with 190 onboard overshot the Kozhikode airport’s runway — a tabletop runway, while landing in heavy rains and fell 35 feet down a slope and broke into two portions on Friday night. The pilot-in-command Captain Deepak Sathe and his co-pilot Akhilesh Kumar were among those who lost their lives.

The crash at Kozhikode brought back bitter memories of the flight accident in Mangaluru in 2010. Mangaluru airport is also built on tabletop.

What is a tabletop runway?

The Kozhikode airport in has a table-top runway and is operated by the Airports Authority of India (AAI).

Generally, tabletop runways are constructed on a hilly or an elevated terrain and are built in a way that there is a trench or valley at the front and back of the length of the runway. Therefore, an accurate landing is very important. The tabletops are very tricky and known to be extremely challenging even for the best of pilots.

It is to be noted that landing on tabletop runways requires a precision approach with little to no room for errors. Following the devastating Mangalore plane crash, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) had banned wide-bodied aircraft from landing at Kozhikode airport. These aircraft require a larger strip of runway to slow down. Therefore, tabletop runways make them susceptible to accidents.

Tabletop runways and air accidents

Apart from the Kozhikode and Mangalore, Lengpui airport in Mizoram, Pakyong airport in Sikkim, Simla and Kullu in Himachal Pradesh are built on tabletops.

In 2010, Air India Express Flight 812, a Boeing 737-800, flying on the Dubai-Mangalore route overshot the runway on landing at the Mangalore International Airport, killing 158 passengers.

Indian aviation sector in survival mode, needs viable revival: IATA CEO

Indian carriers like many other airlines across the globe are in a “survival mode”due to the pandemic and there is a need for sustainable revival of the domestic aviation industry, International Air Transport Association (IATA) DG and CEO Alexandre de Juniac said on Friday.

Speaking at a webinar hosted by the aviation consultancy Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA), de Juniac also forecast the air travel demand in India to drop by 47 per cent and revenue by $11 billion this year over 2019 owing to the pandemic.

expects passenger demand for 2020 to fall by 47 per cent, with revenue falling by $11 billion compared to last year, the chief of the global airlines grouping said, adding, “about 3-million jobs, including those that depend on aviation, such as travel and tourism, are also at risk.”

“The Indian carriers, like many airlines around the world, are in survival mode,” de Juniac said.

He said it is particularly disappointing that the package of $123 billion in government financial aid that has been announced around the world, including $26 billion in the Asia Pacific region.

“I urge the Indian government to support the airlines with a financial aid package that provides a bridge over this challenging period. Specifically, help the airlines with measures that raise equity financing rather than to increase debt. This needs to be done urgently before it is too late, he said.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman earlier this month while as part of the fourth tranche of the Rs 20 lakh crore economic package to revive the economy announced measures such as easing of restrictions on the utilisation of Indian air space, privatisation of six more airports, among others.

de Juniac also said that aviation should be started with measures that are globally agreed and mutually recognized by states as this will give confidence to travellers.

“The restart of domestic aviation in India this week is a step forward. But more can be done, including the need to harmonise measures across Indian states,” he said.

India opened its domestic air travel routes for flying from May 25 after a two months halt. The international operations by airlines, however, remain suspended.

is a member of ICAO’s COVID-19 Aviation Recovery Task Force (CART), which is developing the global standards needed for the safe restart of aviation, de Juniac said.

“We are also engaging a number of governments directly, including India. We have proposed a roadmap for restarting aviation that outlines a temporary layered approach to biosafety until a vaccine, immunity passports or nearly instant COVID-19 testing is available at scale,” he said.

UN’s ICAO to conduct another audit of India’s air safety readiness

The UN’s aviation watchdog International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has decided to conduct another safety audit of India’s air safety readiness.

The audit, which was pre-planned, assumes significance as it comes in the aftermath of the crash in which 20 people were killed, including the pilot and the co-pilot, and several others were injured when the flight from Dubai with 190 people onboard overshot the runway at Calicut airport and fell into a valley

“An ICAO team was supposed to come for an audit in November, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic and border closures, the audit has been postponed to January. ICAO team will check safety aspects of airlines, airports, ground handling firms, regulatory bodies to ascertain that they are upto the international standards,” said an official aware of the development.

ICAO had carried out the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme for India in November 2017, followed by a second audit in February 2018. The audit result showed that the country’s score declined to 57.44 per cent from 65.82 per cent earlier, placing India below Pakistan, Nepal and many other nations.

However, subsequently, the civil aviation ministry and aviation regulator took steps, following which the score improved to 74.

During its audit, ICAO looks at eight areas. These include primary aviation legislation and civil aviation regulations, civil aviation organisation, personnel licensing and training, aircraft operations and airworthiness of aircraft.

The outcome of the audit score is crucial for Indian airlines as it could impact their international expansion plans.

During its audit in 2012, ICAO had placed India in its list of 13 worst-performing nations. This triggered an audit by US aviation regulator, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2014, which downgraded the country’s ranking, citing a lack of adequate regulatory oversight.

Indian airlines were not allowed to add new routes to the US or sign commercial agreements with US airlines during this period. The rating were restored one year later.

“Naturally when there has been an accident where lives were lost, an ICAO audit is significant, but we are well prepared. The accident investigation is also taking its own course and by the time ICAO is here, it will be completed. We are also keeping ICAO updated about the progress in investigation,” the official said.

The primary issue pointed out during the 2017 and 2018 audit by ICAO was to make licensing authority for ATC officers. Earlier, Airports Authority of India (AAI), which is also ATC service provider, had been licensing ATCOs. ICAO considered it a conflict of interest for the service provider to be its regulator as well. In fact, India was the only big aviation market where the safety regulator did not have authority to license ATC officers

“We changed the system and now has almost completed licensing all 2,500 ATCO officials,” the official said.