The Hijack That Never Was: Captain Responsible for the Fiasco

‘H word’ Overruled the Code; Controllers Acted by the Manual

 By Jacob K Philip

It is learnt that  the specific usage of the word “Hijack” by Capt. Rupali Waghmare that triggered all the anti-hijack procedures at Thiruvananthapuram Airport on Friday when the  Abu Dhabi-Kochi Air India Express flight 4422 she had been commanding was parked at the airport.

It also has become evident that the transponder code the Captain used was not the one that indicates a hijack.

Trouble started at 7 am on Friday when the flight landed at the capital city airport after being diverted from Kochi because of poor visibility. The Passengers protested on being told they would have to travel by road to Kochi and went in to agitated arguments with the flight crew. Then Capt. Rupali send an hijack alert to air traffic control, it was reported.

Though the transponder code from the aircraft received by the radar at Thiruvananthapuram control tower was 7700, indicator of (technical) emergency, the young controller was being compelled to initiate the anti-hijack procedures because the captain had spoken to him over the Radio Transmitter that there was a HIJACK LIKE SITUATION on board.

Because the word ‘HIJACK’ had been uttered, the controller had absolutely no choice, but to initiate the process of the post-hijack drill that eventually  did cause so much inconvenience to the passengers of the plane who already had been taxed beyond their endurance.

And the well experienced Captain could never have not known the implications of the word.

The rule 36.7.2 of the Operations Manual (Issue 1, 24.04.2012) of Air India Charters Ltd, a copy of which is with Aviation India, tells thus:

Use of phrase “HIJACK” can also be used when possible and the ground stations will take it to mean “I have been hijacked”, and initiate necessary action and give assistance to aircraft.

Operations Manual, Air India Charters Ltd

From the Operations Manual of Air India Charters Ltd, the Company that owns Air India Express

But then why she did not use the 7500 transponder code indicating “Unlawful Interference” or hijacking?

Only two possibilities could have been  there:

  1. It was just a mistake. She pressed  button 5 instead of 7
  2. It was a deliberate attempt to evade responsibility

If number two was the case, we can see that she has  succeeded to an extent. Only yesterday that Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh vouched for her telling the media people that the pilot sounded only an emergency alert (read  7700).

It is also pointed out that to handle a situation like that, there never were the need to talk to the control tower, switching on the R/T. There were  ample facilities for the pilot whose aircraft was parked at the airport, to communicate with the airline’s staff or with the security personnel. But when the Captain preferred  to talk with the ATC instead, the very character of the whole situation altered dramatically.

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