GANAPATHI BHAT, AKOLA
Air travel is considered one of the safest modes of transport. The vast air space available is one of the key factors in making travel by air secure and comfortable. Aeroplanes are considered accident-prone usually during takeoff or landing. Mid-air collisions between two or more planes were seen to be a rare possibility. But not anymore considering the increased incidences of “near-misses” or “loss of separation” between planes mid air across the world – India included. Recently, two planes of the same airliner reportedly came within striking distance of each other over the Bengaluru airspace. The flights were apart 200 feet vertically which only means more than three hundred passengers escaped a certain death. The minimal vertical separation between two planes is stipulated to be 1000 feet or 300 miles. The horizontal difference between two flights should be 15 nautical miles if they are in the same path or 5 nautical miles if otherwise. Incidentally, it should be recalled that one nautical mile is equivalent to 1,852 metres. On July 7, 2017, an Air Canada flight nearly landed on the taxiway, which already had four planes ready for takeoff and had to be pulled up from as near as four hundred metres from the ground level. The near-misses which are “unplanned contacts” have decreased in India over the years due to technological advancement. India has had the Traffic Collision Avoidance System or Traffic Alert and Collision Avoidance System (TCAS) in the late 90s -1998 to be precise. Laxity among the staff of the Air Traffic Control (ATC) and pilot fatigue are two most important reasons attributed to “near-misses” over Indian skies. Miscommunication and mistrust between the ATC and the pilots are common. Instructions given by the ATC to the pilots like “ascend” or “descend” may be mistaken by pilots of one or both the planes to be for the other. At present, the pilots work approximately eight hours a day but at times their working hours are stretched to ten hours or more. Airports Authority of India (AAI) should regulate the ATC to work with more clarity to keep skies safe for flying in a country where domestic airliners have opened up to carry more and more passengers at affordable rates.