Flying Blind

Raising serious industry-wide concerns, two incidents within the same day highlight the precarious nature of aviation safety in the country. In the first case, a Mumbai-bound Jet Airways flight with 154 passengers on board skidded off the runway at Dabolim airport in Goa while aligning for take-off. In the other incident, a major mishap was averted at Delhi airport when an Indigo and a SpiceJet aircraft came face to face on the same runway.

The two incidents come on the heels of a mid-air near miss earlier this month when a Jet Airways flight and an Alliance Air ATR aircraft came into close proximity over Nagpur. In fact, data shows that the number of such near misses has been steadily increasing since 2011 with a whopping 78% rise between January and May this year compared to the same period last year. Clearly , India’s air safety infrastructure is rotting. It’s well known that Air Traffic Control (ATC) faces a severe staff crunch and is working without a quarter of its sanctioned strength. This can’t continue if India’s aviation sector is to boom.

To make ATC more efficient, there’s a strong case for hiving it off from the bureaucratic Airports Authority of India. This will insulate ATC from government babudom and help create an efficient, professional corps of air controllers who are paid well for the high-stress, highly skilled job that they do. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said that his government would not shy away from taking difficult decisions in the interest of reforms. Hiving off ATC operations shouldn’t be too difficult a reform. Does the country really need to wait for a catastrophic collision between two airliners packed with passengers? It’s high time air safety is given the attention it deserves.

(Courtesy: The Times of India, Dec 28, 2016)