The Kozhikode airport accident involving the ill-fated Air India Express Boeing will be the first full-fledged air crash that will be investigated by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB). Till now all such accidents were investigated through various other mechanisms including a court of inquiry, a commission of inquiry and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
The AAIB was set up in 2012 and this is the first air crash involving a civilian aircraft in India ever since the bureau came into being. The Indian aviation scenario has remained crash-free since 2010 when an Air India Express plane crashed at Mangalore airport.
According to highly-placed civil aviation experts, at least three other internal inquiries will be conducted on a parallel basis, but the AAIB probe will be the official investigation in the case of the Kozhikode AI Express crash and all follow-up action will be based on the report of the bureau. Aircraft manufacturer Boeing will look into the crash details to see if there was anything technically wrong with the ill-fated aircraft that fell 30 feet from the “table top” Karipur airport and broke into two pieces. The American aviation giant will also be involved in the process of decoding the Blackbox of the AI Express plane.
The Airports Authority of India (AAI) will look into any possible lapses in maintaining the Karipur airport’s runway while it was pouring cats and dogs in various parts of Kerala due to intense monsoon activity. The role of air traffic controllers (ATC) in permitting the ill-fated aircraft to land and their judgement of the runway conditions will also be probed by AAI.
The other parallel inquiry will be done by the Air India management to see if it was sensible to schedule landing of an aircraft after dark at a “table top” airport, especially when it was raining heavily. The actions of the two pilots who perished in the mishap will also be looked into to see if their second attempt to land despite rain was scientific or if they should have asked for diversion to a safer airport.
According to initial reports, the finger of suspicion points at the heavy rain and the resultant waterlogging that could have resulted in the aircraft skidding off or the plane landing in slushy waters that could have damaged some equipment and rendered the brakes ineffective. In any case, all other investigations will be for internal purposes while the AAIB will carry out the official accident investigation in this case.
International rules will come into play
All aircraft accident investigations have to follow guidelines of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Unlike the Kozhikode crash, accidents could involve aircraft of one country meeting with a mishap in another country or even aircraft of two countries getting involved in an accident in a third country. Therefore international norms of ICAO are applied by countries who are members of the organisation.
While this is the first case of AAIB probe, investigations in the past involved the DGCA and various types of probe including Court of Inquiry and Commission of Inquiry. The AAIB includes DGCA experts on deputation in key roles and that ensures continuity too. Usually air crash investigations look into technical glitches in the aircraft that might have caused the accident and pilot error that may have led to the mishap. Bad weather and other issues like inadequate infrastructure are also looked into.
Reassessment of tabletop airports
The Kozhikode crash has also raised questions about the safety of “tabletop” airports like those in Mangalore in Karnataka and Lengpui in Mizoram. The Air India Express crash at Karipur is also similar to the Boeing crash at Mangalore on May 22, 2010. The Boeing aircraft involved in the Mangalore crash too overshot the runway and fell off the “tabletop” airport. In fact, the AAIB looked into the Mangalore crash and provided suggestions about increasing Runway End Safety Area (RESA). AAI and DGCA were asked to look into the issue, but a similar mishap has now occurred at Kozhikode.
In 1996, a Saudi Arabian plane collided mid-air with a Kazakhstan Airlines aircraft over Charki-Dadri near New Delhi and this crash was investigated by a Court of Inquiry. In 1998, a Dornier aircraft of the Indian Airlines crashed at Kochi and in 2000 a Boeing aircraft of Alliance Air, a subsidiary of Indian Airlines, crashed at Patna, Bihar. Then the Mangalore airport crash happened in 2010 and these crashes were looked into by DGCA or DGCA-assisted mechanisms. While these accidents involved scheduled airline services, there have been cases of chartered aircraft getting into crashes like the ones that killed Madhavrao Scindia, Y Rajashekar Reddy and CM Balayogi. With the Kozhikode crash, a new chapter is now being opened up with AAIB investigation that may result in a more organised way of probing air crashes.