Air India-Vistara near miss: Lack of aviation awareness triggers blame games

By OV Maxis
Deputy General Manager (ATC)
Airports Authority of India
Going  through the reports of the February 7th Air India-Vistara air-prox incident, it can be seen that that the Area Controller at Mumbai had descended UK997, Delhi-Pune Vistara flight to 29000ft and had given permission to AI631 Delhi-Mumbai Air India flight  to climb only up to 27000ft to keep them vertically separated enough. What made the Vistara pilot to descent below the cleared level is still not evident. As the matter is under investigation it will be inappropriate to draw inferences. However, a listening error on the part of the pilot/ controller cannot be ruled out. The ATC tape replay can reveal the truth.

It has become a common practice for the journalists to put the blame on ATC blatantly in any incidents where ATC personnel are involved without going fully through the details and circumstances.

The attempt to glorify the lady commander of Air India is liable to be viewed as reciprocation from the journalist for leaking out the confidential information. Poor awareness of civil aviation of the journalist who covered the story is also evident from the report. It has become a common practice for the journalists to put the blame on ATC blatantly in any incidents where ATC personnel are involved without going fully through the details and circumstances. In this case also the ATC was projected as the villain and the lady commander as a heroine


Read also:
An incident story that turned into an accident

Even if the lady co-pilot of the Vistara airline committed some mistake, she deserves equal appreciations as received by the Air India lady commander (from the media). Why because, she was very alert and responded to the resolution advisory of the Traffic Collision Averting System(TCAS) in no time as evidenced from ADS-B pictures.

TCAS is the last resort to the pilot to avert a mid air collision in the event of ATC/pilot error. The pilots get visual indication of the conflicting traffic as early as 60 seconds (20NM) laterally and at about 6000 ft vertically in blue color on the cockpit display. When the intruder traffic is within 40 seconds and vertically below 850ft, display changes to yellow and pilot get a warning (Traffic alert). when collision is imminent. 25 seconds before (vertically 650ft), pilot receive RA along with audio instruction to climb or descend. The pilot is expected to act within 5 seconds and follow the RA instruction. Following RA collision can very well be avoided.

Now who is the real heroine?
The co-pilot of Vistara who handled the situation alone or the much more experienced lady commander of Air India who had the assistance of a co-pilot in the cockpit?

In this particular case both the lady pilots meticulously followed the RA instructions generated by the TCAS. In fact, the Vistara pilot executed a rapid descend and played an equal or a better role in avoiding the collision. In spite of receiving an instantaneous RT communication from the controller blaming her actions at that critical moment, she kept the presence of mind and immediately executed the steep descend warranted by RA. Considering the fact that at the time of the incident she was the only pilot available in the cock pit as the commander was away in the toilet she really deserves an appreciation for the most crucial emergency action and thereby avoiding a possible collision.

Now who is the real heroine, whether it is the co-pilot who handled the situation alone or the more experienced lady commander of Air India who had the assistance of a co-pilot in the cockpit?

If tomorrow, the investigations absolve the Vistara lady pilot of any violation of ATC clearance, she will emerge as a real heroine. Let us watch. These are only a public perception under the influence of a biased media. The real fact is that both have discharged the call of their normal duties and responsibilities in such an emergency situation. They are trained and rated for these kind of emergency responses.

And something more about the ATCOs who often portrayed in bad light in media reports like this:

There is a system in place in every ATC units to record the control instructions and radar situation display to facilitate future the investigation if required. The purpose of the investigation itself is to identify the deficiencies in the system and to prevent its reoccurrence. ATCOs undergo stringent and regular skill/ proficiency/performance tests to keep the currency of their ATC ratings. No inferior controllers are rated and deployed on channels.

And one should also not forget the fact that an ATCO may have to control 20 to 30 aircraft at a time in a very congested airspace like Mumbai He has to resolve multiple conflicts of air traffic on different routes/ locations at a time. He is working under severe stress as there is no scope for any error in the decisions he takes in split seconds.

Mistakes can happen at times as he is also a human being but as said above, he is very much accountable for his mistakes.

(OV Maxis is an air traffic, aviation safety expert with more than 30 years of experience. He can be reached at
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  • Anti_corruption.  On February 21, 2018 at 6:38 pm

    Nicely articulated by sick of corruption. Does it really matter what is published in media, and nobody in the media claims to be an expert on the subject. Media reports are merely an opinion. So maxis there is no need to publish so many additional confidential information in social platform which you are privy of due to your job.

  • KC Abdulrahman  On February 18, 2018 at 11:07 pm

    Very informative and a true eye opener. Very convincing and making the irresponsible journalists aware of the consequences of wrong reporting and airing his/her manipulated views rather than the real news.

    Maxis, you have rightly pointed out the fact that the most critical services of the Arcs in terms of safety often get ignored whereas the pilots’ efforts (even it is negligible) are unduly glorified.

    There are many reasons for this favouritism. The most common reason for ignoring ATCs and favouring airline pilots and crew is that the ATCs cannot do any personal favour in terms of seat upgrading or confirmed seats during peak periods or provide any other types of ‘helps’ to any jounalist. On the other sides the airline staff can be of the help of the journalists/columnists. Since the number of pilots are much more than the ATCs, it is obvious that the journalists can have more relatives/friends in airlines operatìons rather than Air Traffic Controls.

    In football, the goal keeper is projected very minimum or even XERO projection. When the team wins, all the credit goes to the strikers and other players but not to the goal keeper. However,if the goal keeper misses a ball, the whole world will blame him/her. The world never appreciate what the goal keeper was catching the shots and saving the team. Similarly, the ATCs are not remembered or appreciated at all for making the sky operations very safe and save millions of passengers every year and saving the nations from finacial burdens

  • Concerned Pilot  On February 18, 2018 at 3:23 pm

    Well done Mr. Maxis, It is about time the public realise that the inept reporting of the media should not be taken on face value. They are basis and are in the habit of publishing errorous news without any verification and with immunity, They should be made liable for false reporting and only then will they learn to print accurate and honest news.
    With regards to to the Air India pilot being made a hero that is standard practise for their union (ICPA) to portray all their pilots as hero’s irrespective who’s is at fault. The media seems to swollow ICPA’s version of events hook line and sinker therefore saving them any need to research the truth.
    It is about time people learn that the media are not interested to portraying the truth but selling sensationalised news.
    Concerned Pilot

  • Sickofcorruption  On February 18, 2018 at 2:27 pm

    Dear Mr Maxis, I see this article as nothing but banter on part of the ATC and as something totally against the Commander of the Air India plane. She didn’t ask for the amount of accolades the media gave her. She merely went about her job. The captain of the vistara airplane should have been in the cockpit during descent. That’s the first error. Toilet breaks need to be timed and on a Delhi Pune leg there is ample time to do it.
    Next it’s really amusing to see how you are patronising the Vistara copilot due to whose error and argument on RT, the planes actually got into the situation! It’s common knowledge how much importance and favours are given in the air for private carriers against Air India. So it’s hardly a surprise you are standing up to the Vistara crew.
    After getting fed up of trying to tell Vistara not to descend below FL 290, ATC actually asked air India to turn right to avoid. This while Vistara continued to descend and argue. On getting the RA, even if one plane takes correct action , the situation is resolved. Even if the Vistara copilot froze on controls and Air India took the avoidance manoeuvre, the situation is resolved.
    So there no need to play the victim here and try and glorify the Vistara copilot. Your article seems like a child sulking because someone else got the credit and you got the brickbats. For all the favouritism that goes on in the air and ground towards indigo and vistara, this is a small price to pay.

    • Maxis  On February 23, 2018 at 12:10 pm

      Dear ‘ Sickofcorruption’,
      It seems that you have jumped into a conclusion that I have taken a stand against the commander of Air India flight in the most unfortunate air miss incident. That is an absolutely baseless allegation, to say the least and does not even deserve a reply. And I regret to say that your questioning of the integrity and commitment of Indian ATCOS is highly contemptible and absurd.
      The media, as usual, was trying to sensationalize the issue by glorifying the actions of the Air India commander painting the ATC in bad colours without going into the actual facts and circumstances. The article was written with an intention to highlight the role of the ATC and the pilots in such situations about which the public has no idea. When the media pointed fingers at the competency of the ATCOs ,I felt it was necessary to throw some light to unique and one of the most stressful jobs in the world for the benefit of the general public. I did not make any comment on the mistake of anyone as the matter was under investigation. But as an aviation professional who admires and has great respect to the job of a pilot I could not simply overtook the emergency response shown by the Vistara Airline’s co-pilot in that very critical and crucial moment . This was evident from the ADS-B display in”flight Radar”. She might have committed some mistakes, but her prompt reaction when faced with the absolute possibility of a collision head on is something which cannot be overlooked by any aviation professional. To err is human but how one performs under severe stress is the real test of his/her true skills. If the action of the Air India commander can get accolades from the media, there is nothing wrong if the Vistara co-pilot who handed the same situation under double the stress, that too without no else to look for assistance or guidance.
      Regarding your comments about the absence of the Vistara commander in the cock- pit , I fully agree with your views. And lastly I would like to clarify you that I don’t even know a single pilot who is working with Vistara or Indigo, where as I have many pilot friends who are with the national carrier. Also, I have never travelled in Vistara Airline or Indigo Airlines. I can confidently tell you that no ATCO’s do any kind of favors for private airlines. You may be feeling protected and courageous to speak any absurdities and baseless allegations by remaining anonymous, but what you should have been doing was bringing your grievances , if any, to the notice of appropriate authorities or to the Secretary ATC guild of India. All Indian ATCOs are the members of the ATC Guild of India. I am hundred percent sure that the Guild would have taken up that seriously.
      And if you are not doing so, if you are not filing a single complaint, you are simply throwing mud on ATCs, the sentinels of the sky. And it reflects nothing but intolerance and disrespect towards a group of your co-professionals whose sole concern is you safety. And to be frank, I don’t think even your own colleagues from the pilot community would support you in your effort to malign the ATC professionals in India.

      With regards

  • Kunhippa vengara  On February 18, 2018 at 10:13 am

    Informative article which reveals the real facts on the incident… Congratulations.

  • Munerr  On February 18, 2018 at 9:27 am

    Verygood Maxis.
    An Informed reporting rather than an ignorant reporting by media.
    properly projecting the facts, not only save ATC but the entire organization-AAI- from bad lights

  • Nkannan  On February 18, 2018 at 7:11 am

    Excellent report on the incident. Media deals with news at their on perception
    Congratulations .

  • J V Pereira  On February 18, 2018 at 4:22 am

    Excellent reply Mr. Maxis, to a highly ignorant media.

  • T.K.AISHA  On February 18, 2018 at 12:17 am

    Good attempt keep it up.Cleared the actual picture of the incident. It is honesty of the real employee of our A.A.I Organisation.

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