An Air India Airbus attempted to take off from the wrong runway in Chennai last month. The Airbus A320neo was heading for Delhi, but the pilots began accelerating down the wrong runway. The control tower spotted the error in time, and the take-off was aborted.
The incident, which occurred on November 13, 2020, was reported in The Aviation Herald. According to that report, the aircraft was VT-EXM, and it was operating Air India flight AI554. That flight is the scheduled 21:30 departure from Chennai International Airport.
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Chennai control stopped the Airbus in time
According to the report in The Aviation Herald, the Airbus was cleared to depart from runway 25 but instead began rolling down runway 30. The control tower was able to stop the plane in time, aborting the takeoff.
India’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) has reportedly begun an investigation into the incident. But the Bureau’s website does not provide information on current investigations or incidents.
Air India has 27 Airbus A320neos. The aircraft in question, VT-EXM, is less than three years old. This is the first known incident involving this aircraft.
This incident follows a fatal crash in August
The incident adds to the problems facing Air India. Most recently, an Air India Express Boeing 737 overshot the runway at Calicut International Airport in early August. There were 190 onboard, and 21 people died.
At the time, India’s Civil Aviation Minister, Hardeep Singh Puri, said pilot competence was not an issue.
“We had a very accomplished, experienced, decorated person in command of the aircraft,” the Minister told The Business Standard.
That publication said the Captain of the ill-fated Boeing had 10,000 hours of flying experience on the Boeing 737 aircraft, more than half of that while in charge. The co-pilot had 1,728 hours of flying experience on the 737 aircraft.
Recently, an attempt to establish a judicial probe and a Central Bureau of India investigation into the accident failed at Kerala’s High Court.
While there were no reported injuries with the A320neo incident in November, an AAIB investigation suggests it is being taken seriously.
Problems at India’s aviation safety & investigation body?
But the AAIB faces its own in-house problems. When setting up a team to investigate the fatal Air India crash in August, the organization (a division of India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation) sidelined its own people in favor of external experts. Only one person on the five-member panel investigating the Calicut Airport crash is from the AAIB.
This is despite the AAIB reputedly having several dozen in-house experts, including safety personal, pilots, other crew members, and investigators.
But a source with the AAIB told Outlook India in August that the AAIB wasn’t up to the job.
“In the past eight years, we haven’t been able to enrich AAIB with adequate and competent manpower. This is a mockery of aircraft accident investigation in India. It looks like the country doesn’t have a single competent investigator to investigate the Calicut crash.”
That source wasn’t prepared to put his or her name to the quote. But even if half right, it flags a possible problem within India’s premier airline accident and incident investigations body. It also suggests we might never really know why the pilots on AI554 in November started to take-off on the wrong runway.