The crash killed 152 of the 160 passengers and six crew on board Air India Express flight 812
New Delhi: Thirty months after India’s deadliest plane crash in a decade left 158 people dead in Mangalore, the aviation ministry has formed a group to fast-track implementation of the recommendations made by a panel that investigated the disaster.
The panel has been constituted ahead of a petition coming up for hearing in a Mangalore court seeking to press criminal charges for negligence against regulatory authorities and the airline. The petition has being filed by the 812 Foundation, a Mangalore-based trust, acting on behalf of those who lost their lives in the 22 May 2010 crash.
The crash, which was blamed by an inquiry committee on pilot error, killed 152 of the 160 passengers and six crew on board Air India Express flight 812 when the plane overshot the runway at Mangalore airport and fell off a cliff.
The petition was heard on 15 January by the court, which will decide whether to admit it on 28 January.
On 11 January, the aviation ministry acted to follow up on the recommendations of the crash inquiry committee, which suggested making Air India Express, the low-fare carrier, independent of Air India, called for lengthening the runway at the Mangalore airport and said the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) should carry out observation flights to Mangalore between 12 midnight and 6 a.m. as often as possible.
“It has now been decided to constitute an implementation committee..," G. Asok Kumar, a joint secretary in the aviation ministry wrote in an order reviewed by Mint.
“The committee shall monitor the implementation of these recommendations. The committee shall meet on regular basis and submit monthly status of implementation to the ministry of civil aviation," the order said.
The panel to speed up implementation of the recommendations will be headed by Bharat Bhushan, director (aerodromes), DGCA. Members include N.D. D’Souza, chief operating officer of Air India; V.K. Dutta, executive director (air traffic management ); R.S. Passi, deputy director, air safety, air accident investigation bureau (AAIB) ; Maneesh Kumar, deputy director, air safety, DGCA; and Suvrita Saxena, deputy director (operations), DGCA.
The panel that investigated the crash had submitted its findings on 31 October 2010, with various timelines given for implementation to the Airports Authority of India, the DGCA and Air India Ltd, all of which come under the aviation ministry.
The 812 Foundation, in its petition submitted to the Karnataka High Court, has demanded that criminal charges be pressed against the organizations and the officials that took decisions related to the fatal accident.
“The complainant submits that this accident is a direct consequence of wilful and gross negligence on part of the Airport Authority of India and gross negligence on the part of Air India and Directorate General of Civil Aviation," the petition reviewed by Mint said. It sought non-bailable arrest warrants against those responsible.
A DGCA official, who declined to be named, confirmed that the matter was coming up for hearing in the court and that there has been some discussion at the agencies named in the petition whether they should seek anticipatory bail for their top officials ahead of the hearing on 28 January.
The petitioners also submitted to the high court a Supreme Court order which clearly said that permission to operate flights using Mangalore airport depended on all regulations being met.
“We, however, clarify that in constructing the Airport, the government shall comply with all applicable laws and also with environmental norms," the Supreme Court said in its order of 27 May, 2002 reviewed by Mint on a special leave petition appeal against the Karnataka High Court order filed by Environment Support Group and others.
The petition seeks to make the case that several regulations were not followed.
“Common sense does not seem to work with the authorities who refuse to learn a lesson, so legal recourse is the only solution for the travelling public," said Mohan Ranganthan, member of the government-appointed Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council.
Even before implementing the recommendations made in the report on the Mangalore crash, the ministry has allowed more airlines to start operations from Mangalore.
On 3 January, Jet Airways (India) Ltd launched its Mangalore-to-Dubai flight—a route that was the monopoly of Air India.
“The best example of the failure of the authorities in safety violations in Mangalore was when they permitted wide-body Airbus A310 aircraft for the Haj charters last year when a smaller aircraft like Boeing 737 had already crashed on the insufficient runway," Ranganthan said.