Civil aviation regulator- the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA)- de-rostered an air traffic controller (ATC) after a video of an averted mishap at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (CSMIA) went viral on social media on Sunday, two officials close to the matter said.

In the video, the Air India flight was seen taking off and the IndiGo flight descended towards the runway. (X/ @Deepak Sharma)

The incident took place on Saturday when an inbound IndiGo flight was landing and when an Air India flight was in the process of taking off from the same runway.

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In the video, the Air India flight was seen taking off and the IndiGo flight descended towards the runway. However, as the IndiGo flight 6E 6053 got closer to touch down at runway 27, the Air India flight AI 657 was airborne just in time.

“The incident is being probed. The tower (air traffic) controller has been off-rostered pending investigation,” a civil aviation ministry official said.

An IndiGo spokesperson said, “On June 8, 2024, IndiGo flight 6E 6053 from Indore was given landing clearance by ATC at Mumbai Airport. The Pilot in Command continued the approach and landing and followed ATC instructions. At IndiGo, passenger safety is paramount to us, and we have reported the incident as per procedure.”

An Air India spokesperson said that an investigation has been initiated.

“AI657 from Mumbai to Trivandrum was on take-off roll on June 8. The Air India aircraft was cleared by Air Traffic Control to enter the runway and subsequently cleared for take-off. The Air India aircraft continued with the take-off movement in accordance with laid down procedures. An investigation has been initiated by the authorities to find out more on the clearance given to the airlines,” the spokesperson said.

Pilots, however, seemed to be worried about the incident.

“What they (the ATC) do is they squeeze in a departure when an aircraft is relatively close on final approach. They need the departing aircraft to start moving as soon as possible and the landing aircraft to be at its minimum approach speed to keep the separation. It appears that one or both of these may not have happened in this case,” a former pilot said, requesting anonymity.

To be sure, Mumbai airport is one of the high density airports, which means that the number of flights movements are high. On a single runway RW27 at the airport, there are around 46 arrivals and departures per hour. ATCs are allowed to clear upto two arrivals and two departures within three minutes as per standard operating procedures subject to certain conditions.

Alok Yadav, general secretary of ATC Guild said, “The separation minima between two aircraft can be reduced if the visibility is good. In this particular case, the visibility was good and there was no air prox situation with respect to the landing IndiGo flight and the taking off Air India flight. There might have been a delay in quite fair visibility, the tower controller is allowed to reduce separation minima between two aircraft if reasonable assurance has been established by visualising both aircraft. In the Video it can be seen that departure has crossed V2 (safety take-off speed) and nosed up and on the other end of runway IndiGo is touching down.”

“ATCs are under significant pressure when there is high density traffic at airports with the safety of aircraft and passengers. The DGCA probe will be looking at whether all norms were followed by the ATC as well as the pilots concerned,” he added.

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