Mangled remains of an Air India Express flight, en route from Dubai, after it skidded off the runway while landing on Friday night, at Karippur in Kozhikode
(AI) needs to change its attitude towards safety or risk a disaster, a retired Directorate General of Civil Aviation or DGCA
official had warned the airline’s management last August.
A K Chopra, who had earlier served as joint director general of the DGCA, was appointed safety advisor to the AI chairman in November 2018. He left the post last August after the airline terminated his contract.
Chopra had flagged concerns regarding engineering, flight safety, operations, and training standards in the airline and subsidiaries, thus warning the management of grave safety risk.
“We have been lucky in the past but safety cannot be left to providence/luck. Next time, luck may not be on our side. AI needs to change its attitude towards safety,” Chopra had written in an August 20, 2019, email to then chairman Ashwani Lohani and the senior management.
Chopra was called to assist the carrier on safety-related issues, upon advice of the civil aviation ministry. His letter has come into spotlight following the crash in Kozhikode last Friday. Eighteen persons were killed, including two pilots, after the AI Express Boeing 737 aircraft overshot the table-top runway.
In his email, Chopra had pointed out that the flight safety department of the airline was working in isolation, and was at loggerheads with all other departments.
Investigations into incidents were being delayed and recommendations biased, he had stated. He had called for an independent audit of the flight safety department and for the replacement of the chief of flight safety Harpreet A De Singh, who, he said, did not meet the regulatory requirements for holding the post.
Chopra said biased action would not encourage voluntary reporting of incidents and make course correction difficult. Singh termed Chopra’s observations “false” in a text message, but did not elaborate.
Engineering and training issues had also come under scanner. Owing to a shortage of funds, AI was unable to plan for major maintenance and overhaul of planes and engines, in a proper way. “Crisis management in the maintenance organisation must be stopped,” Chopra had written.
Further, he had highlighted: “Training department of Air India
Express/Alliance Air needs to be augmented, and the training programme standardised. Monitoring on training department should be increased.”
In an email response, an AI spokesperson said that AI Express has a separate airline operators permit, and its chief of flight safety was Captain Ashish Gangurde.
“A K Chopra’s contract was terminated in August 2019,” the email stated. The airline did not immediately respond to other points raised by the retired DGCA
official. The civil aviation ministry, too, did not immediately respond to queries.