Retired officials of the Indian Air Force (IAF) are likely to be roped in to investigate the Air India Express plane crash in Kozhikode – one of the worst air disasters in India in a decade. Air India Express AIX1344 was a repatriation flight under the Vande Bharat programme for Indians stranded overseas amid travel restrictions brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Senior government officials said while the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) will be the regulatory body in charge of the investigation, the government wants external experts to be part of the committee to reinstate public confidence. Sources aware of the process said the government has zeroed in on four retired and serving officials of the IAF and sought their consent. The Ministry of Civil Aviation has also written to the defence ministry to relieve the officials of their fixed duties during the course of enquiry.
Business Standard has learnt that among the officials approached are Air Marshall B Suresh, who recently retired as Chief of Western Command, Air Marshall Rajeev Sachdeva, Deputy Chief of Integrated Defence Staff and some officials from the Aviation Research Centre – the air intelligence wing of the government. The government will prefer someone who has experience flying the Boeing 737. The IAF has a few Being 737s in its fleet for ferrying VIPs, including the President of India. “This is the worst air crash in a decade. While AAIB officials have been investigating accidents since 2017, there were no fatalities in those cases. Simultaneously, there is a need to restore public confidence in the investigation, as the aviation industry passes through its worst phase due to Covid-19,” said a government official. Along with IAF officials, the AAIB will also reach out to experienced private sector executives, meteorologists, and aviation psychologists to be part of the probe.
The regulations of International Civil Aviation Organization mandate that accident investigators have a practical background in aviation as a foundation on which to develop investigation skills. “These can be by working as a professional pilot, an aeronautical engineer or aircraft maintenance engineer. Other specialised areas of aviation that could provide useful experience include management, operations, airworthiness, air traffic services, meteorology, and human factors,” stated the manual on aircraft accident investigation.
Several people who have been part of serious aircraft accidents in India said looking at the experience of pilots, it is necessary to focus on human factors to determine whether or not there was an error by the pilots. Aircraft Commander Deepak Sathe, a former fighter pilot with the IAF, had 10,000 hours of flying experience on the Boeing 737. Of those, he flew 6,662 hours as commander. Sathe had landed at the challenging airport 27 times, including more than 10 times this year. His co-pilot, 32-year-old Akhilesh Kumar, had experience of 1,728 hours of flying the aircraft.