Air India pilots land safely in NY despite major snags

Published on : Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Air India planeAs an American air traffic controller asked two Indian pilots flying 370 people in Air India 101 to New York “is there anything else you need… uh… from me?”

“We’re good… thank you very much,” one of the pilots responded.

“You’re welcome,” the controller reverted, adding, “Uh, wish there was more I could do for you.” “Thanks, thanks,” the pilot replied cheerily before his flight was handed off to a different controller for further coordination.

This calm exchange came at the end of nearly 18 minutes of constant back and forth between the pilots and the controller.

The pilots, at the helm of a Boeing 777-300 passenger jet had seen several crucial instruments on their modern aircraft go kaput.

This, after they were already forced to abort their landing (or “go-around” in aviation parlance) at the John F Kennedy airport in New York on September 11 due to what the pilots said was an “unstable approach”.

As the Air India New Delhi-New York flight climbed out of its missed landing, the pilots requested the ATC to give them time and space to sort out a “lot of issues” that they were facing.

We have an “on-board instrumentation problem,” the Air India pilots reported after a few minutes, later adding that they were up against a “multiple instrument failure”.

Among the instruments the Air India flight 101 had lost were: Two of out three radio altimeters, the T-Cas system, and the auto-land feature.

The T-Cas, or the traffic collision avoidance system, is essentially an alarm that goes off in cockpits of two planes when they come too close to each other.

However, the Air India pilots’ biggest worry was that they could not attempt the standard instrument landing — since their aircraft’s systems were not able to link up with ground instruments — and would have to go for a visual landing.

Pilots depend on their airplane’s technology to ensure that they are in line with the runway and that their aircraft is descending at a rate that ensures that they do not overshoot or undershoot the runway.

Instrument landing allows pilots to bring their plane as low as 200 feet above land (Qutub Minar is 240 feet tall, for comparison) before they need to see the runway with their own eyes. (At airports with even advanced landing systems, pilots can go even lower.)

However, with their instruments gone for a toss, the Air India Flight 101 pilots essentially eyeballed their landing on September 11 this year, deciding to try a visual landing.

For this, they needed clear skies so that they could manually spot the runway and land their aircraft. And so, after alerting ATC that they had lost a number of their crucial instruments, the pilots and the controllers went back and forth trying to figure out an alternate airport that had skies clear enough to attempt a visual landing.


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