Mangalore crash: Did AI force tired pilot to fly?


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Mumbai, 21 June 2011: Air India seems to have tampered with its pilots’ flight roster to keep under wraps a crucial detail about the Mangalore plane crash that killed 158 people on May 22 last year. 

 

Capt Zlatko Glusica, who was commanding the flight that overshot the tabletop runway, was initially not rostered to operate the Mangalore-Dubai-Mangalore flight and it wasn’t clear when he was informed about his flight and whether there was any coercion on part of the airline to get him to agree. It is a very significant detail that holds clues to the amount of sleep and rest Capt Glusica could have got before he stepped into the cockpit. 

 

The cockpit voice recorder data of the crashed aircraft showed Capt Glusica was fatigued. 

 

The dead commander’s son, Alexander Glusica, who is also a pilot, told TOI that his father, just back from vacation, appeared to have been called in at the last moment and the original crew roster, which he had downloaded from his dad’s laptop did not have him marked to fly the Mangalore-Dubai-Mangalore route. He said he and his father always knew each other’s email passwords. 

 

Capt Glusica returned to Mumbai from Serbia after his break on May 18. He had downloaded the crew schedule onto his email account prior to that which shows he is not meant to operate any flight till 23 May. 

 

 

"My father called me on my mobile phone on May 20 around 6.30pm IST, that is a day before he went for his last flight," said Alexander Glusica. "He said that he had not unpacked yet and was tired. If he had to operate a flight the next day, he would have told me. He always did, especially when it was a Dubai flight as he always shopped for my sister’s kids from there," he added. The commander and co-pilot did shop in Dubai during the brief halt, according to the crash investigation report. 

 

The son accessed his father’s email account, zlatkoglusica@hotmail.com, only to find that the deceased pilot had downloaded the Air India Express roster titled "Flying Programme for the period 17- 23 May 2010". It has the entire list of Air India Express flights during that week and the names of pilots who have been rostered to operate them. It did not mention Capt Glusica’s name for the May 21/22 Mangalore-Dubai-Mangalore flight IX 811/812. 

 

Instead, under the commander’s name in the column are the words "TRG". The roster mentions the co-pilot Capt H S Ahluwalia’s name though. "Trg" stands for Training and it means the slot has been kept open for a Training Captain, that is an instructor, examiner or check pilot -- a senior pilot in the airline. Capt Glusica was not a Training Captain. 

 

The aircrash report says after he reached India, the AI Express crew scheduling department "requested him if he could operate flight IX 811/812 on 21/22 May to which he agreed." It does not specify the date or time when the crew scheduling told him about the flight. The pilot reached Mangalore on the afternoon of May 19. 

 

"The allegation that late Capt Gluzica was not rostered to operate flights from Mangalore to Dubai is denied. On returning from leave, he was posted at Mangalore, from which it is clear that he was aware of the flight roster," said an Air India spokesperson. 

 

TOI sent the copy of Air India roster (sourced from the deceased pilot’s email account by his son) to the airline to confirm or deny its veracity. "On checking up with the roster section, I am given to undersand that printed rosters are subject to change due to various factors. In the specific case, according to the people who were dealing with the roster those days, Capt Glusica on return from leave was sent to Mangalore and was aware that he has been rostered for the particular flight," said the spokesperson. 

 

Airlines that follow best practices mail their pilots their schedule a month in advance and stick to it religiously. Changes in pilot roster are rare. In Air India Express case even the weekly schedules are prone to numerous changes as has been mentioned in the crash report too. The airline says that it cannot force its commanders to operate a flight without their consent. On the other hand, a few months ago it’s pilots union had complained to the DGCA and ministry of civil aviation that there have been several instances wherein pilots have been forced to report to work even when they are unwell. 

 

Air India does not use computerised programming for scheduling duties to its pilots. Instead, rostering is done with pencil, paper and eraser. A crew scheduling officer fills in the flight number against each pilot’s name in a calender-column in a ledger using a pencil. The officer could erase, modify the schedule for pilots any time and there is no paper trail of changes andcorrections. The Mangalore aircrash investigation report had noted that this practice is against the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) norms. The DGCA itself, in its lenient manner, has been hauling up the airline for its pencil-eraser practice for last four years. 

 

Despite all this, investigators did not inquire whether the airline had changed pilots schedules in this case too. "It is very obvious that the Captain was not rested for the flight and he must have been called out in the last minute for the all-night flight. Air India Express does have the roster available online and I wonder why the Court of Inquiry has not accessed that," said Capt Mohan Ranganathan, an airsafety expert. 

 

He said he had requested the civil aviation secretary to re-open the investigations. Generally, aircrash investigators speak to the family and family doctor of the deceased pilots to know if they were under any stress or medication. In this case, the Mangalore crash investigators did not speak to any members of the family of the deceased commander.

 

 

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Comments on this Article
Benedict Noronha, Udupi Tue, June-21-2011, 4:43
I do not have or had any doubt that this disaster was due the Pilots fault who was drousy. It came out earlier on in the news, than the present one. But the tragedy is that Air India express has appointed an agency to settle the claim with an niggardy and sense less one, which has no reasonableness, than to keep back the big size of the cake and perhaps later share within them. Therefore more that 70% of the claims are still pending. Is the Government aware of the way the claim settlement is handled? The Aviation Minister having assured to visit has perhaps forgotten his assurances given to his malayali friend. Mr Vyalar Ravi? where are You? Should I knock the door of Italian Madam at New Delhi?
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