Increasing congestion in Indian airspace resulted in over 90 cases of “near miss” incidents between 2015 and 2018. “Near miss” incidents generally refer to cases where the distance between two airborne planes is less than the prescribed safety limits and could result in mid-air collision.
According to data from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the watchdog for civil aviation safety in India, Indian airspace had already witnessed eight “near miss” incidents by February this year, while as recently as earlier this month, two Indigo aircraft carrying 340 passengers on board averted a mid-air collision after the Traffic Collision Avoidance Systems (TCAS) got triggered automatically when the two aircraft came close to each other, with just four nautical miles between them. The incident took place over Bengaluru.
While Indian airspace witnessed 25 “near miss” incidents in 2015, 32 of such incidents were reported in 2016. This was the highest number of near misses ever reported in Indian airspace in a single year.
Such incidents, however, saw a drop in 2017, when it registered 28 cases of “near miss” incidents in Indian airspace, the DGCA report said.
The rise in the number of “near miss” incidents in Indian airspace is due to growing air traffic congestion in the Indian skies. According to experts, such incidents take place when two or more planes fly at the same height, or a flight descends to the height where another plane is already flying and there is a lack of clear communication between the ATC (air traffic control) and the pilots.
Air Commodore B.S. Siwach, aviation safety expert and director general of Aviation Safety Management Society of India, told The Sunday Guardian, “With the phenomenal rise in air traffic in India in the last few years, we need to have more state-of-the-art infrastructure and expert manpower in the ATC, which controls the movement of flights. We need to have more trained and talented ATC staff, because the job of an air traffic controller is stressful and tiring, and they cannot be kept on duty for a very long time. The ATC tower is congested and noisy, which also increases the stress factor of ATC officials. We need to augment our manpower resources in this sector so that adequate breaks are given to them. There is also a need for having more trained and experienced pilots who operate airlines in India.”
Siwach further added that there is a need to identify the weak areas and work on them. “For example, the newly opened airports under the Regional Connectivity Scheme should provide the infrastructure requirements to operate aircraft smoothly and more trained pilots are needed to manage take-offs and landings in challenging terrains,” he added.
Harshvardhan, another aviation expert, said that a constant effort to maintain the quality of machines and manpower should be of paramount importance for the government to avoid any collisions, as the sector is likely to grow for at least the next 10 years.
“Safety and security are of paramount importance and we need to upgrade the training modules of our ATC staff. We need to provide them with a healthy environment at work to reduce stress. Most importantly, in major airports where air traffic is very heavy, the ATC staff should be of the best quality because such airspace reports the maximum number of such near miss incidents,” he told The Sunday Guardian.
He further added that the skills of the ATC staff need to be upgraded and institutions where the ATC staff are trained, should have state-of-the-art infrastructure to give them hands-on training.
The Indian civil aviation sector has also witnessed over 600 safety violations by different airlines operators, thus compromising on the safety and security of passengers between 2016 and 2017.
In 2016, 352 cases of safety violations by different airlines were reported; in 2017, 269 safety violation incidents by various airline operators came to light.
Some of the safety violations by various airlines included the failure to adhere to the Pilot Proficiency Check (PPC), non-compliance of FDTL (Flight and Duty Time Limitations) requirements, non-compliance of pre-flight medical requirements, unauthorised entry into the cockpit, among others.
However, according to sources in the DGCA, the aviation security watchdog is putting in place all measures to ensure that no unfortunate incidents take place in the Indian skies. Upgradation of technology and infrastructure is being closely monitored along with strict vigilance to ensure all airlines operators follow the security and safety guidelines of the DGCA.
A senior DGCA official said: “We are modernising the ATC to include conflict warning systems. We are also training all ATC staff at simulators before putting them on the job. The DGCA is likely to roll out licencing provisions for all ATC staff and licences would also be issued to trained and quality people on the job. Moreover, all such near miss incidents are studied carefully by the DGCA to ensure such incidents are not repeated and the gaps, wherever found, are filled.”