Sunday, May 23, 2010

Air India Plane Crash - Where is the System?

So, it has happened again. It is natural, it cannot be predicted, it can never be prevented, and it just happens. Accidents are just those things – accidents, nothing more, nothing less. And it is humanly impossible to stop accidents from happening, when people are doomed to die, tied to their fates and find themselves in the wrong places at the wrong time.

That’s why such accidents as the one involving Air India Express Flight IX-812, where all fingers seem to point out towards the Pilot who overshot the runway by about 2000 feet, is almost deemed to be at par with a natural disaster, with no one else to blame at all. Could it be that there can be no one to blame in such a fatal crash that consumed 159 lives? The Civil Aviation Minister, Mr Praful Patel, is prompt to point out that there have been innumerable flights landing and taking off from the same airport at Mangalore. Does that make it just another accident, a bad twist of fate?

In such a simplistic view of an accident as an isolated incident, the role of the system is forgotten – and conveniently ignored. A mistake is a symptom, an indication of something bigger that needs to be fixed in the system. In a country like India where contingencies, off-hand approaches and impromptu actions in accordance with lobbying and political wish lists take precedence over strict adherence to systems and standards, an accident stays in the news for a week, becomes less audible in the course of a month and then, is archived forever. Then, the system goes back into hibernation – till it gets jolted by another incident that grabs eyeballs and becomes breaking news.

There are some uncomfortable questions though, which the authorities would wash down the drain resorting to their usual political rhetoric.

- How many Indian Airports adhere rigorously to standards prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Authority?

- What are the contingency measures put in place, in case a pilot overshoots the runway, as has been in this case of Air India Accident?

- Talking specifically of the Mangalore Airport, television channels and News reports have been labeling it as a “Tricky Runway”. If it is indeed a tricky runway, why have flights been allowed to operate from something “tricky” in the first place? Civil Aviation is not a gimmick or an adventure game to play with, when hundreds of lives are at stake!

- How does it justify waiting for an accident to happen before analyzing why things went wrong? Why do we always wait for something to happen, rather than making sure standards are met with and that the system is fool proof?

Things can be left to fate, when the system is set to function. But, loopholes in the system are not to be tolerated. Well after 159 lives have been sacrificed, can the Government swear that every airport in the country is compliant with International Standards? Can the Prime Minister testify that the system is in place to meet contingencies? Will those airports that have “Tricky Runways” be closed for good, till they are branded as “Safe”? Can passengers know for sure that the system actually works so that where they land does not become their Final Destination?

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