Near miss at Mumbai Airport: Two planes breach safety margins

Near miss at Mumbai Airport: Two planes breach safety margins

Near miss at Mumbai Airport: Two planes breach safety margins

Share this news

In a serious aviation incident on Saturday, an IndiGo plane landed on Mumbai’s runway while an Air India aircraft was taking off, breaching the safety margin distance. Both airlines reported that they had received clearance from air traffic control (ATC).

“The Air India aircraft was cleared by ATC to enter the runway and subsequently cleared for take-off. It continued with the take-off movement in accordance with laid down procedures,” stated Air India. Similarly, an IndiGo spokesperson mentioned that their flight from Indore was given landing clearance by ATC, and the pilot in command followed ATC instructions.

Despite both airlines’ claims of adhering to ATC instructions, pilots and controllers consulted by news agency pointed out the role of the pilots and the operational constraints of Mumbai’s single operational runway amid heavy traffic. 

“The domino was triggered by the Air India aircraft,” said air safety expert Capt Amit Singh, referring to data from Flightradar24. Due to heavy air traffic, Mumbai airport’s lone operational runway handles aircraft in a tightly choreographed sequence. The incident unfolded in the 90 seconds following an Iraqi Airways flight’s departure and the Air India aircraft’s entry onto the runway for take-off. “The Air India aircraft was slow to take off after receiving the line-up clearance, assuming they received immediate take-off clearance,” Capt Singh explained. They should have informed ATC, which would have cancelled their take-off clearance.

According to Mumbai airport’s Aeronautical Information Publication (AIP), “when an aircraft is issued with a take-off clearance after lining up on the runway it shall commence take-off immediately. If the controller observes a delay in aircraft commencing take-off, the take-off clearance will be cancelled and the aircraft shall be instructed to vacate the runway immediately at the nearest taxiway.”

At the time of the incident, the Air India aircraft had not lifted off when the IndiGo aircraft crossed the beginning of the runway. The AIP also sets operational rules for landings, stating, “Aircraft shall not land on an occupied runway even if landing clearance is received,” emphasizing the commander’s responsibility. “Pilots should not hesitate to ask ATC about traffic (aircraft) on the runway. If pilots perceive at any point that it is not safe to continue approach, they must initiate a go-around,” it adds.

Capt Singh emphasized, “The question is the degree of responsibility on each of them—the controller, the two pilots, and most importantly, the runway infrastructure constraints at the airport, which puts controllers and pilots in such situations.”

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has ordered a probe into the incident to determine the exact sequence of events and to recommend measures to prevent such occurrences in the future.