A Jet Airways plane with 280 passengers on board plunged 5,000ft while the captain was allegedly asleep and the first officer was checking a tablet computer, officials and news reports said yesterday.
India’s aviation regulatory body, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), is probing the incident over Turkish airspace on August 8 during a flight from Mumbai to Brussels, an official said.
“The pilots did not file a flight safety report, which is a mandatory exercise to document any unusual incident during the course of a flight. We got to know of it from an anonymous phone message after which we contacted the airline,” the DGCA official said.
The captain of the Boeing 777 was taking “controlled rest,” a nap allowed by regulations when the incident occurred, the Times of India newspaper reported citing unnamed sources. The regulator is also investigating whether the first officer fell asleep as well, the report added.
The first officer was allegedly busy on her tablet checking flight information and did not notice the drop in height, the Times of India said.
The situation was rectified after a call from an Ankara air traffic controller asking why the flight had strayed from its assigned level of 34,000ft to 29,000ft.
The DGCA said it has ordered Jet Airways to suspend the two pilots.
The regulator said it had summoned the captain and co-pilot for questioning over what it called a “serious incident.”
“Both the pilots have been taken off the roster pending inquiry,” said the regulator in a statement.
“Additionally, the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau has been asked to conduct a detailed investigation into the incident.”
The aviation regulator also formed a three-member team to audit any shortcomings in the training imparted to Jet Airways pilots that might have led to the incident.
“The team has been asked to submit its report by August 31,” the DGCA said.
The airline said it had launched its own investigation.
“Safety is of paramount importance to Jet Airways, as is also the welfare of our guests and crew,” it said in a statement.
Jet Airways, in which Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways has a 24% stake, is India’s second-biggest carrier. India’s air passenger market has expanded at breakneck speed, but many companies are laden with debt due to cut-throat fare wars, high fuel costs and shoddy infrastructure.
In 2011, the airline sector was shaken by a scandal over a number of unqualified Indian pilots flying on fake licences.
And in January the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) stripped the country of its top safety rating, citing a lack of safety oversight.
It downgraded India’s aviation safety rating to category two from category one, putting it in the company of such countries as Zimbabwe, Bangladesh and Indonesia.
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