Pilots were experienced, well-rested, asserts AI chief

Mangalore, May 23 (Calcutta Tube) Air India Sunday asserted that the pilot and co-pilot of its Boeing 737 aircraft, which crashed and killed 158 people Saturday here, were experienced and well-rested and requested media not to speculate on the cause of the accident.

‘No, both were well-rested,’ Air India chairman and managing director Arvind Jadhav said in response to a question on whether pilot fatigue could have caused the crash, one of the worst aviation disasters in the country in a decade.

Flight commander Z. Glusica, a British national of Serbian origin, and co-pilot H.S. Ahluwalia had three-and-a-half days of rest prior to flying the Boeing 737, flight IX 812, from Dubai to Mangalore, Jadhav told a press conference here.

Co-pilot H.S. Ahluwalia had taken the Air India Express flight IX 812 ‘after a three-and-half days’ rest’.

‘Ahluwalia’s last flight was on May 18,’ said Jadhav, adding that Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) will not give clearance to any pilot for commandeering a flight unless he is well rested as per the regulations.

Even Glusica had commandeered his last flight on May 19, before taking up the Friday night flight from Dubai to Mangalore, he added.

Jadhav said Glusica had 19 landings in Mangalore and had over 9,000 hours of flying experience while Ahluwalia had over 3,700 hours of flying experience.

‘I cannot ask for a better pilot than Ahluwalia,’ the Air India chief said, adding he was due for commandership in one month.

On Mangalore airport being a difficult one for landing, Jadhav said Indian Airlines, which has now merged with Air India, had been operating the flights from the airport for the last 15 to 20 years. Also Mangalore was not the only airport on Western Ghats; there were Goa and Kozhikode airports too.

He denied any norms of the DGCA were violated by either Air India or the pilots of the crashed aircraft. There are strict DGCA norms for flying to airports like Mangalore and these were followed, Jadhav said.

He said Air India would give Rs.10 lakh each to the families of those aged 12 years and above killed in the crash, and Rs.5 lakh to those below 12. This is an interim monetary relief pending the finalisation of full compensation, he said.

He also said that Rs.200,000 will be given to each injured in the crash.

‘This (the compensation) is over and above the ex gratia relief announced by Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh),’ Jadhav said.

He said the interim relief was decided after Air India held talks with an insurance company. ‘Finalising the rest of the compensation will take time and that compensation will be adjusted with the interim compensation,’ he noted.

The Air India chief managing director said that any dispute related to claiming of the compensation will be settled with the local administration.

Jadhav appealed to the media to observe restraint and not speculate about the causes that led to Flight IX 812 to crash.

‘We had very nice aircrafts and well-qualified experienced pilots,’ he said, adding that even the airports had been in operation for the last 20 years or so.

As an air crash, specially one involving international flights, entails questions of insurance and compensation for huge amounts by international insurers, the speculative reports, pinning the blame on one or the other would undermine the victims’ interest, Jadhav said.

‘All these speculations will only hurt the victims, their relatives and the survivors in terms of getting justice for them and in terms of getting compensation for them’, said Jadhav.

‘Speculations will hinder (the compensation process). It will have international ramifications. This is a tragic incident,’ he said.

Asked about the initial probe report if any, Jadhav said he was here to attend to the families of the victims and ensure they get proper response from the airline.

‘I have interacted with the injured. We have a response team and they will act as counsellors. My heart goes out to them (families of the victims),’ he added.

Jadhav profusely thanked people of the villages near the crash site for rushing to help in the rescue operation. Air India has a very small staff of 10 or 12 people in Mangalore. ‘We are overwhelmed by the people’s response. Young doctors, students, NGOs all came forward to help,’ he noted.

Jadhav said counselling centres were being set up at all offices of Air India Express as the staff too needed help to get over the shock and trauma from the tragedy.

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