Probe hangs fire even a month after president’s chopper incident


New Delhi : Even a month after President Pratibha Patil’s entourage of three helicopters nearly missed colliding with an Air India aircraft in Mumbai, little progress is seen on the ground in ascertaining who was at fault – the air traffic controllers or the pilots.

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A nine-member probe team headed by the joint director general with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, A.K. Chopra, gave his report to the regulator a week after the incident that occurred on Feb 9.

But the civil aviation watchdog is yet to make the probe report public, even as it says that the director general himself, Naseem Zaidi, will investigate the incident.

“We are looking into the matter,” is all Zaidi said, when queried by reporters on the sidelines of an aviation conference here Friday.

The incident involved a New Delhi-bound Air India aircraft with 170 passengers and a 10-member crew on board, which just before takeoff nearly crashed into an entourage of three choppers of the Indian Air Force, one of which was ferrying President Pratibha Patil.

The regulator has been on the back foot ever since Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Fali H. Major, defended his pilots who were commanding the entourage of helicopters and put the blame on air traffic controllers (ATC).

“The air force choppers were not at fault and were given clearance to land on the runway by the ATC. The IAF helicopters were not told to change the frequencies and no pilot can change it without being asked to do so,” he had said.

Major also called for the need to fine tune procedures by the regulatory authority.

The watchdog then had declined to be drawn into the blame game and has since been maintaining that the probe was underway. It had temporarily suspended the concerned air traffic controller, pending the probe.

The regulator also maintained that the officers at the ATC manning the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai were aware of the presidential visit and were closely watching the approach movement of her entourage.

Aviation ministry officials said probe on anther incident a day later, this time over a near mid-air collision involving an Air India aircraft and an Indian Air Force cargo plane, over Assam was also hanging fire.

The Air India plane carrying 45 from Dibrugarh in Assam to Kolkata came close to an IL-76 cargo plane of the air force, when both of them were flying at an altitude of about 17,000 feet over the Jorhat airspace.