Hurtling down the runway in Pune at a speed of more than 222 kilometres per hour this morning, pilots of an Air India aircraft noticed a jeep and a man in their way, prompting them to carry out a premature and emergency takeoff. Though a major catastrophe was averted, this resulted in the tail striking the surface of the runway, damaging the fuselage.
The Airbus A-321 aircraft carried on with its flight to Delhi where it landed safely. There were 180 passengers and crew on board the flight. The incident is now being investigated by the aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), and both the pilots have been de-rostered till the end of the probe.
It is unclear at this stage why the pilots chose to continue their flight to Delhi instead of returning to Pune to make an emergency landing. Investigators will try to understand whether the pilots were aware of the extent of the impact that the rear fuselage of the airliner made with the runway. It is also currently unclear whether a ‘tail-strike’ sensor was installed on this aircraft which would have alerted the pilots of the impact with the runway when the aircraft made its emergency take-off.
Images show the extent of the damage to the fuselage of the aircraft which has now been withdrawn from service. A document submitted by Air India to the regulator says, “damage observed on fuselage skin and [air] frame.”
The Pune Airport is also an Indian Air Force airfield, like several other airports in the country, where armed forces personnel carry out routine activity. The DGCA has asked the Indian Air Force to preserve the recording of Air Traffic Control. Meanwhile, Air India has been advised to remove the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) for its analysis, a DGCA official said after the flight landed in Delhi.
The Air Force too has confirmed the claims of the Air India pilots that a service vehicle was near the runway prompting the pilots for an early takeoff.
“During the morning hours a service vehicle was cleared for routine task on the runway at Pune Airfield, it reached close to the runway at a time when an Air India flight was on the takeoff roll. Due to the presence of the vehicle near runway the Air India pilot had to do an earlier rotation, than what was planned by the crew of the aircraft. The Air India aircraft has landed safely in Delhi. The matter is under investigation by IAF,” the Air Force said.
A DGCA official, who is aware of preliminary investigation into the incident, said, “The aircraft has been withdrawn from service for investigation. Air India has been advised to coordinate with Pune ATC (air traffic control) also to find out any marking on runway.”
When asked about the incident, an Air India spokesperson said, “The A321 aircraft that was scheduled to operate AI 825 (from Delhi) to Srinagar was observed to have certain marks towards the empennage area. This aircraft had arrived from Pune on AI 852. The aircraft has been withdrawn for detailed investigation. The CVR and SSFDR (solid state flight data recorder) readouts would be carried out and the findings shared appropriately.”
Air India has also been advised to coordinate with Pune Air Traffic Control (ATC) during the investigation to find the markings, if any, on the Pune Airport runway.