Sunday, May 12, 2013

Back to the newspaper articles

As we have finished the Middle East post, it’s back to life here in India, with stories of what we’re getting up to plus the weird and the strange stories from the papers.

Here’s an article from last week (courtesy of the “Daily Mail”):

Air India suspends pilots after they 'left Airbus...air hostesses in charge while they slept in business class'

PUBLISHED:21:55 GMT, 3 May 2013| UPDATED:00:45 GMT, 5 May 2013

Flying doesn't get more bizarre than this: an Airbus A-320 flying from Bangkok to New Delhi with 166 passengers, co-pilot snoozing in business class, and pilot teaching two air hostesses how to fly in the cockpit.

Things could get worse, and they did, for sources say the pilot then left the air hostesses in the driving seats as he too went for a business class snooze.

An Air India official admits the cockpit was in air hostess control for 20 minutes, sources say 40, but Director General of Civil Aviation Arun Mishra has said that the air hostesses stayed in the cockpit for the "larger part of the three-hour flight".

The time spent by the pilot in teaching the two air hostesses to fly thus remains anybody's guess.

On Friday, the national carrier suspended a pilot, the captain of the April 12 Airbus A-320 Bangkok- New Delhi flight, his co-pilot, and two flight attendants who had accidentally switched off the autopilot in the cockpit momentarily, risking the lives of everybody on board.

According to sources, pilot BK Soni and co-pilot Ravindra Nath napped in business class, leaving flight attendants Kanika Kala and J Bhatt in charge of the plane.

A senior member of the cabin crew witnessed the entire drama and brought the matter to the notice of the airline's management. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has started a probe into the incident.

Air hostesses are allowed in the cockpit, but only for the amount of time it takes to serve a cup of tea or a snack. It is normal practice, again, to call a cabin crew member into the cockpit if one of the pilots is to leave it for some reason.

By no stretch of the imagination, or rules, does that extend beyond a few minutes. "It is a serious matter. We are investigating the case," Mishra said.

The flight took off from Bangkok at 8.55 am.

Half-an-hour and 33,000 feet into the flight, First Officer Ravindra Nath excused himself from the cockpit to visit the washroom.

He asked flight attendant J Bhatt to occupy the co-pilot's seat in his absence.

Minutes after Nath exited, Captain B.K. Soni called Kanika Kala and asked her to take his seat. Soni did not leave the cockpit immediately, however.

As one source put it, he spent some time teaching the two air-hostesses how to operate the aircraft before joining Nath for a business class siesta. After the flying lesson, Soni put the plane on auto-pilot, leaving the stewardesses by themselves in the cockpit for the next 40- odd minutes.

Auto-pilot does not mean pilots can leave the cockpit.

They have to be present to monitor the flight path and can turn off auto-pilot mode if required.

A statement issued by Air India on Friday stressed that "at no point of time was the cockpit left unattended by the cockpit crew".

It then went to say: "During the incident, due to distraction the co-pilot had touched the auto pilot disconnect button momentarily. But the same was connected back."

Captain Mohan Ranganathan, a member of Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council, a government-appointed aviation safety panel, blamed the "lackadaisical attitude" of the DGCA for the increase in air safety violations.

"The DGCA should be held responsible for the increase in such cases as they have failed time and again to effectively enforce safety guidelines," said Ranganathan.

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