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

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Read also:
An incident story that turned into an accident
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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 ovmarxis@yahoo.com)
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