How safe are chartered flights

Source: The Hitavada      Date: 08 Jul 2018 09:47:11


 

What if the plane had crashed into any one of the neighbourhood apartment complexes or a school nearby? These may be dismissed as mere hypothetical, but the danger is very real. The crash has exposed the serious lapses in the functioning of a chartered plane company in general. Yashwardhan Joshi elaborates on how plane crash in Mumbai raises doubts about safety of chartered flights

 


LYING is soaringly becoming risky these days. The recent crash of a private plane in Mumbai’s busy Ghatkopar area has raised serious issues over the safety of not only the passengers and crew but of the general public on the ground.


When the 12-seater plane crashed into an under-construction building while making an emergency landing, not only did all its four crew members, including the two pilots, died, but a pedestrian also was charred to death when the debris of the chartered plane fell on him. And so we come to the obvious question: What if?
What if the three dozen labourers working at the building hadn’t stepped out for lunch minutes before the crash?
What if the plane had crashed into any one of the neighbourhood apartment complexes or a school nearby?
These may be dismissed as mere hypothetical, but the danger is very real.


The crash has exposed the serious lapses in the functioning of a chartered plane company in general.
Such lapses cannot be overlooked at a time when hiring a chartered plane is becoming increasingly fashionable. Also, politicians often use these planes for election campaigning, and with the country headed towards Lok Sabha polls in 2019, the use of such flights will rise exponentially.
It would, thus, be wise to look into the causes of the Ghatkopar crash. For, these will serve as a good indicator of what is wrong with a chartered plane company, and how best to avoid such accidents when one is seeing a boom in private and chartered aircraft hiring.


Preliminary enquiries reveal that the plane was more than 20 years old and had taken off on a test flight after a gap of several years. It did not have a certificate of airworthiness. In plain terms, it was not fit for flying. This has been accepted by a senior official of the company which owned the tragic Beechcraft King Air C90 model aircraft.


The last time it took to the skies was in 2009 when it suffered severe damage in a crash in Allahabad. At that time it was owned by the Uttar Pradesh Government. The UP Cabinet, instead of spending on repairs, decided to sell it. The plane was finally sold in 2014-- after three unsuccessful auctions-- to a Pune-based company, which then sold it to Mumbai-based U Y Aviation Pvt Ltd, its current owner.


The plane was in the custody of a maintenance company at the time of the crash.
And this is, perhaps, the history of most of the chartered planes -- they are sold and resold and undergo heavy repairs, and thus become potential risk.


In fact, one of the four crew members who died in the crash is reported to have told her father a day before the tragedy that the aircraft was in a “very bad” condition, and that she was flying on it this time, but will never step her foot in it again. Officials at Juhu aerodrome, where the ill-fated plane had been undergoing repairs, also admit that the aircraft was in a poor condition when it was brought to Mumbai.


Another revelation of the enquiry is that the flight was cleared despite adverse weather conditions. It was raining heavily in Mumbai when the aircraft lifted off. The husband of the co-pilot of the chartered plane says that his wife had told him before the tragedy that the test flight was aborted the previous day because of water-filled runway and again the next day, due to adverse weather conditions. Questions are, thus, being asked as to why the flight was clear in haste when it should have been postponed. The owners of the aircraft seem to have completely disregarded their responsibility to check whether such a plane should go off the ground.


In fact, the DGCA norms do not permit test flights of small planes in the rainy weather, so who allowed the flight to take off in the first place. A lesson from the tragedy is that from now on, there should be proper monitoring of such companies which are seeming guided by commercial purposes.


Aviation experts also question the test flight’s path through densely populated neighbourhoods.
The Shiv Sena, that rules Mumbai, has also raised serious questions over aircraft maintenance by private firms and lack of open spaces in the city.


It points out that lack of open space in Mumbai makes it difficult for big aircraft to land safely in case of emergency. It has, therefore, suggested a study to look into factors such as population growth and building by-laws in the city that has India’s busiest airport.


What is needed are safe infrastructure for flights, even small ones, to take off and land safely, and proper control over the chartered plane companies if we don’t want to endanger the life of the public in future.