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Mamata Flight Incident: 6 Pilots Suspended Over Delay In Landing

File photo of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

File photo of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee.

Six IndiGo pilots were suspended on Wednesday over delay in landing of West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee's flight at Kolkata airport.

Kolkata: A week after Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee cried foul over a delayed landing of her Kolkata bound flight from Patna, the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has "derostered", a euphemistic way to say suspended, six pilots of aircraft operated by the three airlines (2 each from Spice Jet, Indigo and Air India) which hovered over the city's skies on the evening of 30 November.

The move comes in the wake of a thorough inquiry of the incident promised in Parliament by Union Civil Aviation Minister Jayant Sinha. Trinamool Congress MPs raised uproar in both houses of the Parliament last Thursday, a day after Banerjee's IndiGo flight made a so-called "emergency landing" at the Netaji Subhas Bose International Airport in Kolkata.

The MPs alleged that the delay on account of the aircrafts hovering over Kolkata and their subsequent "emergency landing" after the pilots reported that they were "low on fuel" was a "conspiracy which put the chief minister's life in danger". While the conspiracy theory was directly related to Banerjee's vehement opposition to the Centre's demonetisation move, the concern was backed on the floor of the House by other opposition leaders like BSP chief Mayawati, JDU's Sharad Yadav and even Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad.

Besides IndiGo, the two other airlines under scanner are Air India and Spice Jet.

In response to the suspension, Indigo maintained that although they have kept the pilots off duty, "There had been no violation or breach of any regulatory requirement" in the said flight. "IndiGo Captain had followed all SOPs as laid by the regulator and at no stage the Captain declared a fuel priority or an emergency," the statement from the airline stated, adding that the matter is being taken up in greater detail with the DGCA.

In an earlier statement IndiGo had insisted that the flight 6E 342 had made a delayed but “normal landing” at the Kolkata airport but the pressing of the emergency protocol button by the airport officials was on account of a misunderstanding in communication between the pilot concerned at the ATC officials. "The flight was kept on hold for landing due to air traffic congestion at Kolkata. The pilot operating 6E-342 had advised the ATC that he has 8 minutes of extra holding fuel over Kolkata (Destination) before commencing diversion to the planned alternate. However, this information was misunderstood by the Air Traffic Controller who assumed that the aircraft had only 8 minutes of total fuel left. The misinterpretation of the information by ATC controller led ATC to instruct fire engines and ambulances to be stationed at Kolkata airport," the 1 December statement read.

Air India, on the other hand, had this short response to the DGCA order: "Pilot derostered for communication gap resulting from confusing phraseology. No take from AI. We will abide by what DGCA has advised." Spice Jet was yet to issue a formal statement till reports last received.

A source with one of the airlines in question felt that the regulator's action is a warning to all airline operators to not cut corners on fuel, especially during the winters when aircrafts are frequently diverted to alternate destinations for landing on account of poor visibility.

first published:December 07, 2016, 12:44 IST