NEW DELHI: Imagine approaching a two-runway airport to land on and the pilots not being sure which airstrip to touch down on! This is what happened with the crew operating an IndiGo Mumbai-Male flight last February. The pilots saw a cross mark on the runway they were approaching to land on, indicating that the airstrip is under construction. They performed a go-around and safely landed on the correct runway in the second attempt.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation conducted a probe into this incident of February 3, 2019, and on Tuesday made the report available which shows “inadequate flight planning by the operating crew despite (both these pilots) operating for the first time to Male” and “incomplete information given” to the pilots by the airline’s dispatch.
“The operating crew was aware of the existence of an under-construction runway parallel to the existing active runway. However, there was confusion regarding the actual runway in use during approach and crew made an approach to the under construction runway. At about 12 feet radio height, the PIC (pilot in command) not being convinced that the runway to which they are approaching is the active runway carried out a missed approach. The aircraft later made a normal approach and landed at Male” by 5.36 pm (Indian time), says the DGCA report.
The confusion started when the Airbus A320 (VT-INY) operating as 6E-783 with 106 people on board was approaching to land. “After intercepting the final approach course the operating crew sighted the two parallel runways and the runway on the right appeared prominent to them…. Even after reaching 400 radio altitude, the PIC had his inhibitions that the approach was being made to the wrong runway as he observed ‘X’ cross marks on the runway and he announced the same, but the first officer (F/O) insisted that the runway on the right was the correct runway.”
“The PIC continued the approach…. The aircraft descended to 12 feet radio altitude above the runway under-construction, by this time the PIC still unable to confirm the active runway performed a go-around,” the report said. The flight landed on the correct runway in the second attempt.
Based on the cockpit voice recorder transcript, the report shows the confusion in the cockpit at the time of approaching to land in the first attempt.“…PIC enquired with the F/O that there are cross marks ‘X’ on the runway and confirmed whether F/O is sure of the runway. PIC asked the FO: ‘just ask’. F/O replied that the runway to the right is the correct one…. The PIC still not being convinced of the runway announced ‘this is not the one’ and performed a ‘go-around’.”
During the second — and successful — attempt to land “the PIC advised the F/O to confirm with the air traffic control whether the runway on the left is correct or the runway on the right is the correct runway. To which ATC tower controller replied ‘affirm you aimed for the wrong runway’,” the DGCA report says.
“…PIC is observed to be telling the F/O that ‘I knew that was not the runway, because it had a cross’ and the F/O replied ‘but it was written over there.’… F/O stated that ‘so they told that one which looks like the runway is not the one which is the runway’. To which PIC replied that “no but I saw the cross, but you kept telling me this is the thing. Then when I came close then I knew that this is not the runway”.
The DGCA report says “the inability of operating crew to positively identify the runway to which the aircraft was cleared to land during final approach was the cause of the incident”. It lists “inadequate flight planning/review by the operating crew despite operating for the first time to Male; lack of assertiveness of PIC; in-complete information supplied to the flight crew by dispatch (of IndiGo).. and inappropriate scheduling of PIC to operate the flight without factoring for the time
allowances required for transport between different terminals (at Mumbai) as contributory factors.
In its safety recommendations, the report of DGCA assistant director (air safety) Linju Valayil Philip has said IndiGo should incorporate terminology for under construction runway and minimise use of relative directions left and right.
The airline has also been asked to provide sufficient time interval for operating crew between flights when a change of aircraft is involved especially if the flights are from different terminals. “The PIC was on standby duty on the date of incident and was assigned duty to operate flight from Bengaluru to Mumbai (6E-346) followed by 6E-1783 (Mumbai-Male) and 6E-1782 (Male-Kochi). The flight pattern for which the PIC was scheduled was not a standard flight pattern for crew scheduling,” the report says.