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Diminishing Returns: Calculated Misery in Air Travel

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Dr. Binoy Kampmark

If there comes a point when people will decide not to fly, the issue may well be less to do with any moral or ethical issue with climate change than the fact that commercial flights have become atrocious. They are naked money-making concerns with diminishing returns on quality. The key factor that plays out here is what economists like to term inelastic demand. Prices can be raised; service quality can be reduced, but customers will keep coming. The demand remains, even if the supply leaves much to be desired.

The phenomenon is distinct over the long-haul carriers, which have, at least until recently, been spared the stripping phenomenon. Singapore Airlines, which prides itself for an almost aristocratic bearing towards its customers, proved skimp its Melbourne to Singapore leg. An insulting sampling of “toasties” was offered as a starter, a culinary outrage that did not go unnoticed. Indian passengers who had selected special meals in advance were on the money; pungent curries and dhal filled the cabin as this ridiculous excuse of a meal was handed out to customers. A few desperate, and disgusted punters asked the flight attendants if there were spare vegetarian options.

Budget airlines may have something to explain in this regard. The revolution of the cheap fare came with the reduction of expectations. No frills travel came with a certain contempt on the part of the service providers: food and drink would no longer be gratis; seat allocations would have to be purchased in advance and check-in or carry-on luggage would have to be paid for. A turning point was Dublin-based Ryanair’s attempt to go easy on toilet numbers – one per aircraft – and charge customers for their use. As the company’s penny-pinching CEO Michael O’Leary said at the time, “We rarely use all three toilets on board our aircraft anyway.” Bladders be damned.

Instead of aspiring to a higher level of service, the traditionalists have voted to go down a notch or three. What budget airlines do badly, we can do worse. The law of diminishing returns is pushing all air travel carriers downwards in what has been seen to be an exercise of “calculated misery”. The experience is appalling and unpleasant, but need not necessarily be intolerable. The result is a curious revision of the term “upgrade”. As Alex Abad-Santos laments in Vox, passengers upgrade their seats, not to get a more spectacular service or experience, but “to avoid hell.”

Managing such misery is hardly original, though Tim Wu of Columbia Law School can be credited for giving a good overview of it when writing in 2014 for The New Yorker. “Here’s the thing: in order for fees to work, there needs to be something worth paying to avoid. That necessitates, at some level, a strategy that can be described as ‘calculated misery’. Basic service, without fees, must be sufficiently degraded in order to make people want to pay to escape it. And that’s where the suffering begins.”

Nothing says such suffering than crammed economy seats on a long-haul flight. Shoulders and arms are jammed; legs can barely move. The trend was such that Bill McGee, a writer with more than a passing acquaintance with the airline industry, would note, referring to the United States, that the most spacious economy seats “you can book on the nation’s four largest airlines are narrower than the tightest economy seats offered in the 1990s.”

Things are not much better in terms of the European market. Mediocrity mixes with indifference, even on flights which are half-full. A flight from London Heathrow to Copenhagen with Scandinavian Airlines was characterised by a certain snooty indifference on the part of the flight attendants. Much babbling was taking place in Finnish – why would you want to assist passengers? Little by way of interest in the customers was afforded. Curt instructions were issued; requests for coffee were received with glacial stares. Naturally, to receive a meal and drink that wasn’t water that had seen better days required forking out of the plastic fantastic. Gone are the days when international airlines behaved as such, wishing to make matters decent, comfortable and even pleasantly bearable; the European air space finds itself populated by the stingy and the tight-belted.

Commercial airlines from SAS to Singapore Airlines have taken whole sheafs of extortion from the budget airline book of making customers pay for selecting seats. The stress here is budget service at caviar prices. This cheeky form of thieving imposes a cost on the act of jumping the queue for a better place on the flight. And this is not all. You book a ticket with a flight, only to find at the airport that you had purchased a “light” version, meaning that you have to pay for carryon luggage.

High time for a customer revolt, but the industry is distinctly programmed. Even when airlines have been well disposed to their customers, such as JetBlue, the corporate monsters of Wall Street have howled. It’s bad form to provide decent service within reasonable expectations. Efficiency, and filling the seats, is what matters, whatever the quality. Fee-free services, being conscious of the brand and a “customer-focussed” approach was simply not on. Eventually, JetBlue caved in and joined the market of calculated misery.

 Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com
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January 23rd, 2020 at 7:40 pm

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

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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 ovmarxis@yahoo.com)
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February 17th, 2018 at 9:15 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Air India Express incident at Kochi airport: Blue lights could be the culprit

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By Jacob K Philip

An aviation hazard, known as “Sea of Blue Effect” combined with the fatigue of the cockpit crew could be the reason of the taxiway excursion by an Air India Express flight during the wee hours of 5th September at Kochi international airport.

An analysis of the incident done with the help of aviation experts having many years of experience with Airports Authority of India and Air India excludes all possibilities, but this phenomena, which though specifically mentioned in the Aerodrome Design Manual (Part IV) released by International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), is rarely documented and reported in India so far.

The incident

On September 5, the Air India Express Abu Dhabi-Kochi flight 452 landed at Kochi International Airport at 2.20AM on runway 27. After landing, the aircraft exited the runway through link C2 and then turned right to go to the apron of the new terminal T3. To reach the designated apron, the aircraft was instructed to exit the taxiway using the link-taxiway F in the left, after B and E. Everything went well till the aircraft reached near the exit E.  As per the reports of the incident, the aircraft  took the left turn 90m before the actual exit F. So, instead of entering the apron, the aircraft crossed into the space between link taxiways E and F and its rear wheels got caught in the 1m wide open drain that runs parallel to the taxiway. While the wheels descended into the drain, the bottom side of the two engines of the Boeing737-800 aircraft hit the paved surface beneath. The nose-wheel assembly too damaged as the most of the weight of the aircraft got suddenly transferred  to it.

The Sea of Blue

To see how an experienced pilot could cross into an open space mistaking it for the link-taxiway, we may visualize what the pilots of the aircraft were seeing from the cockpit of the aircraft during its movement  towards exit F.

When the aircraft moved forward at a speed of 18knots, the pilots must’ve been seeing  clearly  the taxiway stretching ahead. The thick yellow line marking the centre-line of the taxiway too must’ve been visible, thanks to the edge lighting.  A little farther ahead on the left, there were four links-taxiways perpendicular to the taxiway that connect the taxiway with aprons.  These links -denoted by Roman alphabets  B, E, F and G- too had blue edge lights.

When the aircraft initiating the 90 degree turn to enter the link-taxiway, the glow of the blue lights fitted along the edges of the four parallel exit paths can together appear as a huge, rectangular illuminated surface. This optical illusion is the Sea of Blue Effect.  It occurs because blue light that travels as shorter, smaller waves gets scattered more than other colors.  The light thus scattered from the edges of the five link-taxiways spaced just 125m apart can easily overlap, hiding the open land between them. So the chances are abundant for the pilot either to totally miss the actual exit that got submerged in the ‘blue sea’ or to confuse between the exit (link-taxiway) and the area  between the link-taxiways.
And it seems Flight IX452 did commit the second mistake- it turned 90 degrees to the left through the open area between E & F links-taxiways, instead of entering the link F.

But why only this pilot?

Many cockpit crew before him too would have got confused, no doubt. Only that they all could overcome the illusion just in time.  And the reason why this pilot succumbed to the playing-of-tricks by blue lights could be the very timing of the flight. IX452 that landed at 2.20 am at Kochi airport was the same aircraft that flown from Kochi to Abu Dubai as IX419 the previous evening. IX419 that took off from Kochi at 5.20pm had landed at Abu Dhabi by 7.50 pm. Within one hour, the aircraft departed to Kochi as IX452, operated by the same crew.  That means the pilot who mistook the open land as a link taxiway was continuously flying the aircraft from 5.20pm to 2.20 am, but for a one hour gap from 7.50 to 8.50pm.

And it may also be noticed that the taxiway excursion was happened 20 minutes after the beginning of the Window of Circadian Low. (WOCL, the interval of time from 2.00am to 6.00am, is a period during which people working through night can experience maximum fatigue). The end of the flight coinciding with the WOCL is more dangerous. Seeing that the duty time is almost ended, a fatigued person’s all urges will be to do away with it as soon as possible. It was only natural for the pilot to become more impatient seeing he is almost  there- a turn and then the apron and the end of the journey. And this fatigue-triggered impatience could have made him an easy prey of the  Sea of Blue illusion.

The other possibilities

  1. Reduced visibility

It is understood that the visibility at the airport during the time was more than 800m. For an aircraft moving at 20kmph, this visibility is more than enough to see the turns & obstructions ahead.

  1. Objects on the runway

Obstacles happen to be on the runway can cause the nose wheel lose control, while going over it. But nothing of this sort was reported.

  1. Faulty nose wheel moving erratically, resulting in unintentional right turn.

This indeed is a chance, especially for this particular aircraft. On March 11th 2014, while operating as  IX-193, this VT-AYB aircraft had its nose-wheel damaged during taking off from Lucknow for Dubai. Seeing parts of nose wheel gear on the runway, the ATC called the aircraft back. But the damage was repaired soon after, and the aircraft was flying all these three years after the incident.

  1. Hydroplaning & skidding

when there is lots of rain water on runway layers of water can accumulate between the wheels of the aircraft and the runway, leading to a loss of traction and  loss of control. But the rain was not that strong Tuesday night, for this to happen. Moreover, the plane’s speed was only around 20kmph.


(Jacob K Philip, a Doha based aviation analyst, is the honorary editor of Indian Aviation News Net. He can be reached at jacob@indianaviationnews.net)
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September 7th, 2017 at 6:02 pm

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Pilot’s attempt to land despite captain’s objection led to Flydubai crash?

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By Jacob K Philip

It could be an attempt by the first-officer to land at Rostov-on-Don itself  despite the objection of the captain that led to the crash of Flydubai flight981 at the airport  on 19th morning, this month. The transcription of the last minute of the two-hour long cockpit voice recorder points to this possibility alone.
Though Rossiya-1, a Russian  television channel, that leaked the transcription, has suggested that the crash was caused by an inadvertent activation of the elevator while the aircraft was climbing, an analysis of the transcribed voices  indicates something far more grave and intriguing.

This was how the Channel had interpreted the CVR data:

“The transcript suggests that the pilot lost control of the plane immediately after switching off the autopilot.  The pilot accidentally switched on a stabilising fin at the tail as he tried to pull the plane back to a horizontal position. With this fin activated, the plane practically does not react to the pilot’s control panel. And thus the nose dive and crash.

And here is another paragraph from a news report based on this interpretation:

“On the second landing attempt, the crew decided to pull up and try again, but 40 seconds after beginning the ascent, one of the pilots switched off the autopilot, possibly in response to sudden turbulence, the report said. Seconds after the autopilot was turned off, the plane plunged to the ground”.

The problem with these analyses was that none of them had  looked closely at the dialogues between the pilots. Instead, they went on assuming a lot of things regarding the auto pilot and the movements of flight control surfaces, without the backing of the data from the Flight Data Recorder, which was still being analysed.  The accidental activation of the elevator or a runaway  elevator were mere assumptions without the backing of any proof.

These were the sequence of events  that unfolded at  Rostov-on-Don that fateful morning:

Captain Aristos Sokratous (38) and first officer Alejandro Cruz Alava (37)  were not being able to land the Boeing-737-800 in harsh weather conditions.  They had tried to land once but had to abort it because of  poor visibility. And then began the extraordinary hovering  that lasted well beyond two hours  over Rostov-on-Don. Even as at least two other flights had opted for alternate airports (within 250 km), to the amazement of the ATC, Flight 981 opted to stay put.   After  2 hours, they decided to give it another try. But had to abort the landing again and they initiated a go-around.   But within one minute, the aircraft fell almost like a stone and crashed, killing all aboard. The transcription of the CVR has the sounds in the cockpit during that last, tragic one-minute.

The timeline and the voices:

  • Before 01:40:40GMT (The transcription aired by the channel does not specify the exact time):  ‘Going around’,  -‘Climbing to 50’, -‘Climbing to 50’
  • 01:40:40GMT: “Do not worry, do not worry, do not worry!”
  • 01:40:45GMT: “Don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t do this!”
  • 01:40:50GMT : ‘Pull! Pull! Pull!
  • 01:40:54GMT ‘Aaaaaa’ (inhuman cries)

“Do not worry, do not worry, do not worry!”

At 01:40:40 one of the pilots says, “Do not worry, do not worry, do not worry!” (Before this, they already had aborted the landing and initiated a go around and had started climbing to 5000 ft). (Most probably that was Captain Sokratous. Because the chances for a first officer to say this to his commander are so remote).

The obvious implications of the words “Do not worry”, repeated thrice are this:

  1. One of the pilots was worried about something.
  2. The cause of the worry was already known to the other one, who seems to console, reassure.
  3. The re-assuring pilot was not sure if the other one would cease to worry- that was why the repetition.

What was the worry?

The answer could be there in the manoeuvre they just had initiated: Go around.

He must have been worried about doing a ‘go around’ again.  The next voice (heard 5 seconds after) proves this assumption was correct:

“Don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t do this!” 

What it he was doing, for the captain to yell like this?  The answer is here:  It was at this point that the plane started its fatal dive.

So the pilot, who was worried about yet another go-around, initiated the descent on his own, against the ‘loud and clear’ instruction of the Captain.

Pull Up, Pull Up

This call to pull the aircraft up comes five seconds after.  While the aircraft was falling at disastrous speed, the voice heard yelling Pull Up, Pull Up very well could have been uttered by the Commander of the plane. And it can also be the automated ground -proximity warning.  Whatever it was, one fact is clear:  The pulling up was never done.

Inhuman cries

The nerve-chilling cries heard four seconds later imply another important thing.

It was not an attempt to crash the aircraft deliberately (as in the German wings crash case). That is, if the cry was from both the pilots.

The aircraft hit the ground within seconds, exploded, killing all aboard.

More about the “Dont Worry”

It could be argued that the pilot was not worried about the “go around”, but about some blunder he could have  committed in manoeuvring the plane, like an inadvertent pulling of a lever, activation of a switch, just as suggested by Rossiya-1.  If so, the Captian would then have been looking for a solution, a correction. He could have been trying to correct the action and at the same time only telling his colleague that, “it was okay, I will correct it, don’t worry”

What the first officer could’ve been doing while his captain been busy correcting an error he had committed? By all probability, he would have been watching it all, with guilt written all over his face. And the last thing he would do at that juncture would be touching the console again.

But what happens 5 seconds later? The Captain yells this :

 “Don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t do this!”

The first pilot had  just done something that should never have been done!  Again?!

That is unbelievable.

There is only one explanation:  His initial worry was never about some blunder he had committed.

So why he acted against all the norms of subordination and CRM? What was the urgency?

Or again, what was his worry?

The answer will be in the CVR itself- that is, in the 119 minutes prior to the last one minute. Though it never was leaked to any media, that 119 minutes must be full of the words exchanged between the two pilots. While just hovering over an airport for two hours, looking for an oppotunity to land, no colleagues can remain silent. The answers will be there in the chat between the two while flying in numerous loops over  Rostov-on-Don.

The hovering for a couple of hours

The perplexing hovering for two hours when there were ample opportunities to fly to another and land there, may be explained, by the extra-ordinary attempt made by the pilot to land despite the shocked intervention of the captain.

It could have been because of the persuasion of the first officer that the captain decided to remain there.   He wanted to land at the airport that day. That exactly could be why  he appeared worried when the second attempt to land was aborted and the captain imitated a climb to 5000 ft.  He might’ve feared that they would be going to another airport soon.  And that explains his taking over the control.

But why?

Why he was worried about not being able to land at that airport on that fateful morning of March 19?

That obviously is the most crucial question.

(Jacob K Philip, a Doha based aviation analyst, is the honorary editor of Indian Aviation News Net. He can be reached at jacob@indianaviationnews.net)
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March 28th, 2016 at 10:35 pm

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Kozhikode airport clash: Investigation in gross violation of rules

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By Jacob K Philip

One week after Kozhikode airport, Kerala, has witnessed a war like confrontation between the CISF and the airport staff, the extremely alarming incident is now being investigated in total violation of the laws of the country.

As per Indian Aircraft Act, it was the union civil aviation ministry, and not the state government to initiate actions.
And it never was the responsibility of the local police to do the investigation, collect evidence and make arrests.

The authorities in fact had no options but to go by ‘the suppression of unlawful acts against safety of civil aviation act ‘ (which forms a part of Indian Aircraft Act) and to entrust the whole investigation with an officer deputed specifically for the purpose by the Civil Aviation Ministry.

– Because what happened at Kozhikode airport between 10.30 pm and 5.30 am on the fateful night clearly were the gravest of unlawful acts against safety of civil aviation that could ever have happened at any airport in the country.
See section 3A & 4 of the Act:

3A. Offence at airport
(1) Whoever, at any airport unlawfully and intentionally, using any device, substance or weapon,
(a) Commits an act of violence which is likely to cause grievous hurt or death of any person; or
(b) Destroys or seriously damages any aircraft or facility at an airport or disrupts any service at the airport, endangering or threatening to endanger safety at that airport, shall be punished with imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.

4 . Destruction of, or damage to, air navigation facilities
(1) Whoever unlawfully and intentionally destroys or damages air navigation facilities or interferes with their operation in such a manner as is likely to endanger the safety of the aircraft in flight shall be punished with imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to fine.

And here is how each of these unlawful acts were blatantly committed by the very agency that was entrusted with preventing the same:

3A. 1 (a): Acts of violence:

In addition to the killing of a CISF man in accidental firing, the acts of violence can be summarized like this- assaulting the airport staff, aiming loaded guns at them and chasing them across the airport.

3A. 1 (b)
Destroying facilities of airport:

Two crash fire tenders were vandalized, the doors of many rooms of the technical block were damaged, the monitor of INDRA automation system worth millions of Rupees was pulverized… the list is pretty long.

Disrupts any service at the airport:

It was not just a disruption but total stoppage of services. All the activities at the airport had come to a standstill during 10.30 PM to 5.30 in the morning.

Endangering or threatening to endanger safety at the airport:

By chasing down the people entrusted with the safe functioning of the airport and air traffic control with loaded guns and other weapons, the whole bunch of the CISF men couldn’t have managed to do this violation better. They not only made the ATC tower deserted for full 20 minutes by making the air traffic controllers flee for their lives, but they themselves had abandoned their designated posts, in the quest for revenge!

4(1)Damaging air navigation facilities:

After a chase of AAI staff in the operational area that reminded of the scenes of thriller movies, a group of CISF men had destroyed as many as 22 lights on two sides of the runway. And runway lights are crucial navigation al equipment, not to mention the monitor of INDRA automation system.

Interferes with their (air navigation system’s ) operation:

By barging into the ATC tower, which itself was a serious offence, the CISF chased away the air traffic controllers from their assigned posts(The ATC officer were hiding behind furniture in a locked store room while the Jawans searched for them with loaded guns). It was not just interference with the operation of air navigation system – It was making the whole system dead.

Now that it is established beyond a shadow of doubt that each and every clause regarding the airport /aviation safety in the act were violated, the next step is investigation and nabbing the culprits.
Now read section 5A:

(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, for the purposes of this Act, the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, confer on any officer of the Central Government, powers of arrest, investigation and prosecution exercisable by a police officer under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973.
(2) All officers of police and all officers of Government are hereby required and empowered to assist the officer of the Central Government referred to in sub-section (1), in the execution of the provisions of this Act.

So, contrary to what happened and still happening at Kozhikode, the local police had no right to investigate the case or to arrest the suspects. They actually had only one role to play: assisting the officer designated by the central government in conducting the investigation and making arrests.

Now read how the trial is to be conducted:

Section 5B: Designated Courts:
(1) For the purpose of providing for speedy trial, the State Government shall, with the concurrence of the Chief Justice of the High Court, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify a Court of Session to be a Designated Court for such area or areas as may be specified in the notification.
(2) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, a Designated Court shall, as far as practicable,hold the trial on a day-to-day basis.

Section 5C. Offences triable by Designated Courts —

(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in the Code of Criminal Procedure,1973,
(a) all offences under this Act shall be triable only by the Designated Court specified under sub-section (1) of section 5B.
(2) When trying an offence under this Act, the Designated Court may also try an offence other than an offence under this Act, with which the accused may, under the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973, be charged at the same trial.

That means, not only the acts of violation of aviation safety rules, but all other crimes committed too during that night should be investigated only by an officer appointed by the Central Government and all the accused should be tried by the special court set-up or the purpose alone.

The investigations and arrests being done by the local police is not only in gross violations of the aircraft act, they are in utterly wrong direction too.

Because the horrific things happened at Kozhikode airport on June 10 were not a simple case of law & order; not an issue of damaging public property; not even a case of culpable homicide – but something much more serious and which is going to have far reaching consequences as far as the civil aviation scenario and internal security of the country is concerned.

(Jacob K Philip, a Doha based aviation analyst, is the honorary editor of Indian Aviation News Net. He can be reached at jacob@indianaviationnews.net)
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June 16th, 2015 at 10:14 pm

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MH 370: Crash confirmed, the Answers to ‘How’ and ‘Why’ Still Hidden in the First Hours

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Did the pilots try to land at three airports, one after another?

By Jacob K Philip

With the announcement made by Najiv Razak, the premier of Malaysia, that “flight MH370 ended in the southern Indian Ocean”, let us hope the prolonged suffering of the dear ones of the people aboard the flight would find a definite closure.

Because, most of the hijack and other related conspiracy theories were in fact giving the family members a false sense of hope.

When it was only common sense to conclude by the end of first week of the missing of the aircraft that the plane and its passengers were no longer alive, Nations, especially Malaysia, seemed to be stupefied by the avalanche of theories, counter theories, (false)leads, analysis and suggestions.

So the greatest significance of Najiv Razak’s statement, though severely criticized by many as hastily and without sufficient proof, is in its conclusive nature:

The plane and all its passengers are lost in Indian Ocean. That means a crash.

The investigations of all the past air crashes had proved one point irrespective of the widely varying nature of the tragedies: Crashes never are caused by a single event, unless they are executed by people. They would always be the ultimate conclusion of a chain or chains of events. Only when there is definite, well planned and direct human intervention that the pattern of events that had led to the ultimate crash would look simple. Like a straight line. A hijack is such a straight line. A pilot-suicide-incident is another.

The final picture drawn by a series of unintentional occurrences that had culminated into a catastrophic event will always look too complex. Just like it is in the case of MH370.

Though the very complexity is the biggest give away of an accident, it is an ideal breeding ground too- for theories to sprout up: Again like what happened these days.

And just like it is for all cascading failures, it would be wise to start the analysis at the beginning.  The complexity would only have started to go up at that point.

From the full transcription of the communication between the pilots and the ATC from 00:36:30, it is evident that there were nothing abnormal about MH370 till 01:07:00. Though it was suspected otherwise, it was later proven that the ACARS might have stopped working after the, “All right, Good Night”.

Just as it had been explained in the post published March 18, the highly erratic and seemingly complex flight path the plane followed from 1.21 to 2.40 am (as corroborated by the eyewitness accounts), indicate an on board emergency that manifested suddenly, after 1.21 AM. The U turn, the climb to 45,000 ft and drop to 20,000(if primary radar readings were exact), the zig-zag path followed- all might have been the external manifestations of the desperate attempts by the humans inside to tackle the problem.

The widely shared reasoning put forward by Mr. Chris Goodfellow, who has been a pilot for 20 years, was the only other voice along this line. He said the aircraft might have been looking for an airport to land after undergoing a massive system failure caused most probably by a fire on board.

The aircraft of course might have been looking for an airport to land. But unlike what Mr.Goodfellow had suggested, the airport MH370 so frantically was flying to might not have been Langkawi.

Langkawi, around 380 km from the eastern cost of Malaysia and located on the western side, was so distant an airport to try for an emergency landing. Actually, the distance to Kuala Lumpur airport from the east coast is less- only around 275 km.

So if MH370 was indeed was looking for airport, it would have done so for an airport at a distance less than 275 km. (The length of the runway was of not that importance. B777 could land on runways as short as 6000 ft, with a little expertise).

After reaching back  the east coast, the pilots would naturally have tried to locate and land at the nearest possible airport.

And there indeed were TWO airports so close to Marang and Bachok, where the aircraft was spotted by local men that night.

1. Sultan Mahmood Airport , Kuala Terengganu ( WMKN)


View Larger Map

2. Sultan Ismail Petra Airport (WMKC), Kota Bharu.


View Larger Map

The distance from Marang, where the first group of eyewitnesses seen the aircraft, to Sultan Mahmood Airport, is less than 50 km. The distance from Backhok, where the second eyewitness seen the craft , to Kota Bharu airport, is just around 25 km.

The most significant fact that support this theory is the seemingly erratic path chosen by the pilot. After reaching the east cost, it simply turned north west. Eyewitness 2 at Bachok said he thought the craft was going towards the sea. Need not had been.
After an attempt to land at Sultan Mahmood Airport near Marang failed , the pilot(s) must have decided to try , Sultan Ismail Petra Airport Airport, near Bachok, roughly 150 km away. The seaward flight must’ve been to aim for the Kota Bharu airport.

The reason for aborting the landing at both the attempts is evident, though.

The operating hours of Sultan Mahmood Airport is from 7.00 AM to 10.00 PM and for Kota Bharu, it is 6.00 AM to 11.30 PM.

It of course is unlikely both the pilots were ignorant of this fact. But the situation- whatever that could be- that might have been worsening by each passing seconds, might have urged the crew to resort to this desperate measure. But without any visual indications of the runway and with no means left to communicate with the airport, MH370 would have ascended again to the gloom of the night.

If MH370 had tried to land at two airports that were known to close before 11.30 PM, the on board emergency would have been that serious, and fast escalating. So the chances are remote for the aircraft to have tried for another airport.

But, if the location where the crash occurred was indeed Indian Ocean, the aircraft might have crossed the Peninsular Malaysia. That is, again a U turn after trying to land at Kota Bharu Airport. If MH370 indeed had flown towards the western coast, that might have been to try for the third time, to land.

Which would have been the target airport this time around? A big airport, not too far from Kota Bharu and one with night landing facilities. The nearest airport that match the requirements was Penang International Airport (WMKP).  The runway (4/22 ) length   is 3352 m. The airport functions round the clock. The distance from Bachok (or Kota Bharu Airport) was less than 230 km. (To Kuala Lumpur, the distance would have been around 340 km).

Only after the CVR and DFDR are recovered, these assumptions can be proved, of course. And for the relatives of the 239 people who were aboard the flight, the answer to ‘how’ matter so little. Even then, picking up the thread of reason, however feeble and slender it is, from among the misleading myriads of facts, fiction and hearsay, is always worth the attempt.

(Jacob K Philip, a Kochi based aviation analyst, is the editor of Indian Aviation News Net. He can be reached at jacob@indianaviationnews.net)
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March 25th, 2014 at 6:35 pm

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Malaysia Airlines Flight 370: The Plotted Path Could be All Wrong

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The aircraft could have been flying towards Thailand; Accident is the most probable scenario

By Jacob K Philip

The actual path taken by the missing  Flight 370 of Malaysia Airlines after it disappeared from the civilian radar can be drastically different from the path now being considered to be that of the aircraft.

Path 1 shown below is the  one accepted by the investigators for the time being and 2 is the path the aircraft might have covered actually.

Path1

Path2
While Path 1 was plotted depending solely upon the radar data, Path 2 was developed considering both the radar data  and another information more closer to reality, the eye witness accounts of a group of people and that of an individual.

Eyewitness account 1:

Time: Around 1.20 AM, 8th March.
Location: Marang Beach, East cost of Peninsular Malaysia

Eight villagers (of Marang) here lodged police reports Tuesday claiming that they had heard a loud noise last Saturday coming from the direction of Pulau Kapas. One of them, Alias Salleh, 36, said he and seven fellow villagers were seated on a bench about 400 metres from the Marang beach at 1.20 am when they heard the noise, which sounded like the fan of a jet engine. “The loud and frightening noise came from the north-east of Pulau Kapas and we ran in that direction to find out the cause. We looked around the Rhu Muda beach but did not see anything unusual,” said the lorry driver.
Bernama, March 9, 2014

It is evident from the timing, location and the direction, that it was MH370, which vanished from the civilian radar at 1.20 am, March, 8.
Allowing a margin of 5-10 minutes, the zooming in of the plane could have happened a few minutes after the plane vanished from the civilian radar at point A. The eyewitness on the Marang beach seen the plane coming from the sea towards them. So the plane was coming from the ‘vanishing point’ back to the land.
At what altitude?
Must be too low. Something between 1000-2000 ft. Only a plane flying that low could be heard that loud. Note the men said they were so frightened by the voice that they ran.

To where the plane was heading ?

The answer is here:

Eyewitness account 2:

Time: Around 1.45 AM, 8th March.
Location: Bachok Beach, East cost of Peninsular Malaysia

A businessman in Ketereh claimed that he saw a bright white light, believed to be of an aircraft, descending at high speed towards the South China Sea about 1.45am on the day flight MH370 went missing. Alif Fathi Abdul Hadi, 29, told the New Straits Times what he saw after lodging a report with the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) in Tok Bali earlier today.
Alif said he was in the compound of his home when he saw the bright white light, which he described as similar to the ones used by airplanes during night flights.”I was walking towards my back door when I caught a glimpse of the white light.”It was moving towards the sea, towards Bachok area, which was unusual.”Usually, aircraft that fly over here have their usual route pattern, but this one went completely towards the other way,” he said. Alif said he watched the light’s movement for about five minutes, before realizing that it was descending.”
Bernama, March 10, 2014

If the men at Marang had seen the flight coming from the sea towards them, what Alif Fathi Abdul Hadi witnessed was a plane at a higher altitude, but descending, moving towards the sea. The sighting at Marang was around 1.20 AM. Alif saw the plane by around 1.45. The distance between the two locations is around 150 km. If it was MH370 itself, why 25 minutes to cover the short distance for a plane that can cover 550 km in an hour, even while descending ?
The answer is the bizarre climb and dive by the plane said to have gone through, as detected by the Air Force radar. Radar readings had said the aircraft climbed to 45,000 feet after the ‘vanishing point’ A and then descended to about 20,000 feet.
When Alif seen the plane, there were no frightening sound, only a white light moving away in the calm night. The altitude could have been something around 5000 to 10,000. But not 20,000.  The discrepancy could be attributed to the errors that can creep in to radar readings when the object it tracks is farther.
If these two eyewitness locations are joined (B to C), that will give the path of the plane after it returned to the land from the point above sea at which it vanished.

It may be noted that the bearing of the track is approximately 330 degrees.

Now see what Aviation Herald wrote about the accident on March 8:

On Mar 8th 2014 aviation sources in China reported that radar data suggest a steep and sudden descent of the aircraft, during which the track of the aircraft changed from 024 degrees to 333 degrees. The aircraft was estimated to contact Ho Chi Minh Control Canter (Vietnam) at 01:20L, but contact was never established.

So the initial path followed by MH370 was like this:

  • From A , the point of last contact to B, the Marang beach:  Track changed from 24 to 204. Change in altitude: from 35,000 to 1500 feet.
  • From B to C, the Bachok point: Change in altitude: Climbing from 1500 ft to 15,000 ft and then descending to an unknown altitude. Track: 330.
  • From C onwards: Details not yet known

It can be seen that the official path is plotted based on the assumption that the jet followed  the well known, published flight corridor that extent from way points to way points. Why this assumption?  Mainly because the point at which it vanished from the civilian radar was too close to a waypoint called Igari (Latitude 065610N, Longitude 1033506E).  The next sighting of the plane by the air force radar near the west coast.  And there again was a way point: Vampi (Latitude N06105600, Longitude E097350800). By now, the analysts had reached a conclusion- MH370 was travelling along a definite flight path of which, by these two and the following were way points:  Gival (Latitude N07000000, Longitude E098000000) and Igrex (Latitude N09432800 Longitude E094250000). So it was concluded that the flight was being guided by some one very familiar with navigation.

The fact that track of the path between Gival and Igrex was 308 degrees further strengthened the speculation.   308 was more or less close to 333, the number already identified as the angle of the path of the object traced by the radar.

But it can be seen that this chain of assumptions had taken MH370 much far from the more plausible path of the flight that could have been derived from a more reliable mix of data: Eyewitness accounts and the known radar data.

It may be also noted that the path from Givel to Igrex and that from Marang to Bachok are almost parallel. Or, the tracks are almost identical for both paths.  When the Air force radar read the track of the unknown flying object as 330, the object or MH370 could have been moving from Marang to Bachok and onwards. Not from Gival to Igrex as interpreted later by the investigators.

If the flight indeed was proceeding along this newly plotted path, where it was heading to?

The answer to the question is of course the key to solve this puzzle.

It can be seen that not only the directions  but the overall behavior too  of the flight was entirely different from what is being said about the initial hours of the plane.

After the transponder was switched off  one minute before way point Igari, the plane was actually going back and descending to an alarmingly lower altitude.  It was only after reaching above the land at altitude 1000-2000, that it climbed to 45,000 ft and dropped to 23,000 feet; not  after it vanished from the civilian radar. After that part of the ‘journey’, it again traveled north-east and further descended. It didn’t go west to cross the peninsula or didn’t climb to 29,000 ft after the crossing, as the radar data interpreters now tell.

So it obvious that, unlike what being widely believed now, the movements of the plane were never precise or calculated. And the highly erratic or frantic moves were sure indicators of an unexpected crisis on board.  There were no strict adherence to a well defined flight path formed by a set of  known way points. But only an alarmingly disoriented flying. Flight MH370 was sure not going to a secret terror rendezvous, but was only trying to escape from an impeding disaster. 

But, if the aircraft had indeed crashed soon, how come the pings or electronic shake hands between a satellite and the plane for at least another six hours? There of course an explanation: For the satellite to pick up, the plane need not be airborne. A running engine was sufficient. Where ever it was.

The Silence that Speaks in Volumes

After 8.11 in the morning of 8th March, 2014 (the time of last ping from the satellite to the aircraft), there were no information/communication from the plane or its passengers.

All the analysis/theories now we have are based on the happenings before 8.11 AM, March 8.

What could be the implication of the fact that absolutely no new developments/events after the morning of 8th?

What could be the meaning of the total silence from the other side of the curtain beyond which 239 human beings and a modern jet liner had gone in the early hours of March 8, 2014?

Why no communication between possible terror cells leaked out during these 10 days preceding the incident?

Seems the answer is obvious.

There were no conspiracy, no planning, no hijacking and no terror attack.

It was a plain, simple case of an air crash. Most probably in land.

(Jacob K Philip, a Kochi based aviation analyst, is the editor of Indian Aviation News Net. He can be reached at jacob@indianaviationnews.net)
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March 18th, 2014 at 8:05 am

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Flight MH370 crashed in the forests of Peninsular Malaysia ?

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 By Jacob K Philip

The decision taken today to shift the main area of search to the west for the missing flight MH370 of Malaysia Airlines may be the first major step in the right direction to solve the puzzle of the lost plane. Looking more intently at places other than South China Sea is a wise move. But if the search parties continue to ignore the land mass of peninsular Malaysia, the final answer to the puzzle could evade them further.

Because, by all probabilities, the crashed aircraft would be somewhere in the forests in the districts of Terengganu or Kelantan in peninsular Malaysia.

Actually, from day first itself, there were ample indications for this.

The Radars
The radar of Flightradar24 had plotted the path of the aircraft only up to the point of Lat: 6.97 & Lon: 103.63 in the South China Sea area around 1.41, Saturday morning. At that point, the elevation was 35,000 feet, Airspeed 471 knots, track 40 degrees. MH370 simply vanished next second. The location was South-East of Thochu Island and between the Marang coast of Malaysia and the cape of Ca Mau of Vietnam. By 8th morning, with news of the missing flight spreading fast, the images of this plotted path as captured by Flightradars24 too had been shared by many.

mh370fr24But Malaysian Air Force soon released the path of the same aircraft from their own radar. That was a little longer. And it was seen in that the plane turning almost 180 degrees to align with track 230. After the turning, the plane vanished from the military radar too.
This discrepancy between the two radar recordings was soon explained by flightradar24 in their face book page:

Today there are reports in media that MH370 may have turned around. FR24 have not tracked this. This could have happened if the aircraft suddenly lost altitude as FR24 coverage in that area is limited to about 30000 feet. FR24 have not tracked any emergency squawk alerts for flight MH370 before we lost coverage of the aircraft.

So there was a sudden loss of altitude, just before the aircraft taking the U turn. Why the drop and why the drastic turn? Reasons could be many. Encountering a sudden turbulence and falling in an air pocket could be one explanation. The fall could have been be so severe that it reached some 20,000 feet within seconds. The drastic drop might have damaged the very structure of the aircraft and many passengers aboard would have suffered injuries. Assessing the severe damages to the plane and considering the passenger injuries, the Captain would have decided to go back home- for an emergency landing. By then the integrity of the fuselage too could have been compromised. Rapid depressurization would have necessitated loosing altitude further. That explains the vanishing of the plane from air force radar after the turn. The turn and fall could also because of some hijacker demanding that. But the hijackers-on-board theory has been discarded by now by the Interpol and the Malaysian Police.

Now see this report by Bernama:

Eight villagers (of Marang) here lodged police reports Tuesday claiming that they had heard a loud noise last Saturday coming from the direction of Pulau Kapas. One of them, Alias Salleh, 36, said he and seven fellow villagers were seated on a bench about 400 metres from the Marang beach at 1.20 am when they heard the noise, which sounded like the fan of a jet engine. “The loud and frightening noise came from the north-east of Pulau Kapas and we ran in that direction to find out the cause. We looked around the Rhu Muda beach but did not see anything unusual,” said the lorry driver.

It may be remembered that Marang and Pulau Kapas are exactly along the plotted flight path of MH370.
Note the ‘loud noise’ and the direction ( ‘from Pulau Kapas’) from which that came. It is obvious that, the plane, having turned towards the land of Peninsular Malaysia, flew past the villagers at a low altitude, in the direction of Kuala Lumpur.
But why there were no communication to the ATC?

Reasons could be the two:
1. The pilots could have been be too preoccupied with getting things under control. A damaged fuselage, severely injured passengers, and failing/failed systems.
2. Time was too short. The aircraft eventually crashed a few kilometers away.

But is it possible for a crashed aircraft to go unnoticed by the villages for four days?

The answer to this question is the crash of Kenyan Airways flight 507 , a brand new Boeing 737-800 in the night (01:06 local time)of 5 May 2007. Immediately after take off from Douala International Airport, Cameroon, the plane crashed in to a small forest just 5.4 km away from the end of the runway. (It was established later that a series of errors committed by the pilots had caused the crash) .The plane hit the ground almost vertically, nose first and by the force of the impact, considerable length of the fuselage penetrated deep in to the swamp. All 114 on board were killed. The signals emitted from the craft were so mangled that, all the search for the craft were concentrated in an area 120 km away from the runway. It was almost after two days, by the evening of May 7, that a hunter accidentally spotted the crashed plane in the forest.

Elimination of other causes
All the other possibilities like terror attack, hijack or mid air disintegration etc. have been eliminated by now : The passengers with stolen passport were kids with no crime records or terror connections; The plane had not landed at any airport/airstrip and there were no communication by possible hijackers; no widespread debris could be found neither on land or in sea.
So the only plausible explanation remaining is a crash on land away from populated areas.

And this provides a satisfactory explanation to something else also: The reported ringings of the mobile phones of many passengers even after two days of the disappearance of the flight.

(Jacob K Philip,  a Kochi based aviation analyst, is the editor of Indian Aviation News Net. He can be reached at jacob@indianaviationnews.net)
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March 11th, 2014 at 8:15 pm

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Clapping & whistling onboard: If charged, Kerala Strikers can get 1 year imprisonment

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By Jacob K Philip

The troubles of the 28 members of Kerala Strikers, the celebrity cricket team, who were deplaned at Kochi airport by the Commander of a Kochi-Hyderabad Indigo Airlines flight, are far from over.

If the Indigo Airlines Commander is to follow proper procedure, there are every chances for all the Strikers to get booked soon. And if the charges are proved, they might get a punishment of one year imprisonment and/or a fine of Rs 5 lakhs.

It was aboard Indigo Airlines Kochi -Hyderabad Flight 314 that the drama unfolded on Friday afternoon. As per the media reports, while the air hostesses were busy giving flight safety demonstration inside the aircraft, just before takeoff, the Strikers clapped and whistled loudly. Some other passengers said to have objected the behavior of the team. Feeling offended and insulted, the cabin crew rushed to the Captain and complained. The Captain in turn informed the ATC and brought the aircraft back to the apron and ordered the celebrity cricket team out.
Later, the organizer of the Celebrity Cricket League (CCL) told the media people: “There’s no rule that says you can’t clap on board. Clapping is not a crime. We didn’t misbehave with anyone.”

Clapping is of course no crime. But disturbing the crew of an aircraft definitely is. Especially when the crew were performing a crucial duty directly related to the safety of the aircraft.

See the 23rd & 22nd rules of Indian Aircraft Rules (1937):

Rule 23
Assault and other acts endangering safety or jeopardizing good order and discipline.–
(1) No person shall, on board an aircraft, ─
(a) assault, intimidate or threaten, whether physically or verbally, any person,
(b) intentionally cause damage to or destroy any of property,
(c) consume alcoholic beverages or drugs,
which is likely to endanger the safety of the aircraft or of any person or jeopardizes the good order and discipline on board the aircraft.

Rule 22:
Assault and other acts of interference against a crew member – No person shall, on board an aircraft, ─
a) assault, intimidate or threaten, whether physically or verbally, a crew member which may interfere with the performance of the duties of the crew member or lessens the ability of the crew member to perform those duties;
b) refuse to follow a lawful instruction given by the Pilot-in-Command, or on behalf of the Pilot-in-Command by a crew member, for the purpose of ensuring the safety of the aircraft or of any person or property on board or for the purpose of maintaining good order and discipline on board.

If the Kerala Strikers indeed had clapped and whistled while the safety demo was on, it is obvious that they are guilty of violating the above rules.

Now, can the Commander decide to not to proceed further with the issue?
Of course not.
As per a circular (F.No. AS/CABIN SAFETY/CIRCULAR/2010 CABIN SAFETY CIRCULAR NO. 2 OF 2010) released by DGCA on 27th January, 2010, it is mandatory for the Commander to report such incidents without any delay.

This is to reiterate that the procedure to report incidents of unruly/disruptive passenger is same as that for any reportable incident. However for the benefit of all concerned the reporting procedure is as below:
All incidents are to be reported to Director Air Safety – Headquarters (Cabin Safety Division) and in addition to Director Air Safety / Regional Controller Air Safety in whose region the flight lands after the incident.
The information is to be immediately reported by Chief of Flight Safety/Cabin Crew Nodal Officer (telephonically) as above and written information should be submitted within 12 hours of the landing of the aircraft as per the enclosed performa.

The penalty too is there in the rules. See schedule VI of the Aircraft Rules 1937 .

Offences punishable with imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or with fine not exceeding five lakh rupees, or with both.

(Jacob K Philip,  a Kochi based aviation analyst, is the editor of Indian Aviation News Net. He can be reached at jacob@indianaviationnews.net)
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February 21st, 2014 at 7:33 pm

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Now anyone can bid for Air India Operations site

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The operations website, airindiaops.com, that Air India has been maintaining for the last 14 years is now down for 17 days.

Reason: The national carrier could not renew the site before the date of expiry, 2013-11-15.

The site, which was the only online source of  information regarding crew rostering, training schedule, advisories, announcements etc was a sort of intranet site used religiously by thousands of cabin crew, pilots and ground staff from across the globe. The applications for leave could filed through this site, incidents could be reported and the full duty schedule for the next week could be downloaded.

Now the crew get this pagewhen trying to login.

The re-directed page inserted by the hosting company (Network solutions) now displays advertisements to raise some revenue. The following announcement also is there:

airindiaops.com expired on 11/13/2013 and is pending renewal or deletion.

And now any one can bid for the domain.

Just go to this page.

Minimum bid amount is $647 and starting bid was 69 $USD.

And be quick. The bidding will close on December 18.

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November 30th, 2013 at 10:43 am

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