Saturday, May 28, 2011

A downgrade of the Indian airspace - can an aircraft be puffed out of the skies?

According to newspaper reports,the Pilatus - PC12 aircraft which crashed into a Faridabad( India) home on the 25th May,2011 met with a "Wall of Wind" at around 14,000 feet. The questions which beg an answer are:

- this aircraft has a weather radar. Did it not show the high velocity 60 kmph wind over Bhatinda?

- why did the ATC not warn the aircraft not to enter the Bhatinda/Faridabad/Delhi airspace knowing that a small 7 seater aircraft could have trouble facing high velocity winds.

- are these aircrafts not designed to handle 60 kmph winds? Winds at high altitudes regularly attain a velocity of over 60 kmph. What is important to a pilot is the wind resistance that an aircraft faces.Windspeed/Aircraft Speed is the important ratio for the pilot. Wind speed of 50 Knots ( 92 kilometers/hour) is almost unimportant to a Boeing 747 flying at, say, 37,000 feet at 500 Knots/hour. However, when this aircraft slows down to 200 knots, Headwinds at 50 knots (50/200) is a very important factor. Was the PC12 at slower than recommended speeds when it faced the " Wall of Wind".

- The PC-12 is capable of flying at upto an altitude of 30,000 feet. Why was the aircraft not alloted a higher altitude (it was flying at 14,000 feet) or a lower one in order to escape the squall?

- If an aircraft can be dumped from the sky into the ground by 60 kmph winds then how safe are the ATR -72's which are regularly used by many passenger airlines. The ATR-72 has a maximum altitude of only 25,000 feet compared to 30,000 feet of the PC-12.

Not many may know it, but the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) is being threatened by the US FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) of a downgrade the Indian Airspace and its Aviation procedures to the level of Sub-Sahara African level - i.e. the worst possible administration of aircrafts and airspace.

For many years, Indonesia's Garuda Airlines was not allowed to fly into Europe because of its poor safety record. DGCA seems to be sliding towards this. On one hand we have better airport infrastructure and on the other, rot is eating into the innards of India's Civil Aviation. There is complete lack of accountability. The media is interested only in 'breaking news'. This PC -12 brokeup and fell over Faridabad and made news. In the next few days media will lose all interest in this PC -12 which was carrying a critically ill patient to Apollo Hospital in Delhi.

The public too has short memory. The Civil Aviation Mandarins will go about as if nothing has happened - after all it was only a 7 seater aircraft which crashed.

We need the US FAA to keep us on our toes. I hope they downgrade us to the Sub Saharan grade. That may, perhaps, wake up all concerned.

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