A Public Interest Litigation has been filed in the Kerala High Court regarding the air crash of 7th August 2020 at Calicut airport which killed 19 people seeking immediate closure of the Calicut International Airport and an independent and impartial open inquiry by a Court of inquiry headed by a retired judge as opposed to the closed investigation which is being undertaken by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB).
A CBI criminal investigation into the cause of the air-crash has been demanded by the Petitioner.
Similarity between both the Mangalore and the Air Crash Calicut Incident
Mr. Yeshwanth Shenoy being the Petitioner claimed that on 7th August 2020 the air-crash that took place at Calicut airport showed similarity to the air crash of Mangalore that had occurred on the 22nd of May, 2010.
Allegations were made by the Petitioner that the airport officials and the State authorities had been issued several warnings but the officials deliberately ignored to take any corrective measures to rectify them before both the accidents about the dangers at the airports, especially after the Mangalore crash in 2010.
Several references to emails/ letters by Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer to the then Prime Minister and Chief Justice of India have been cited regarding the state of aviation safety in the country and numerous letters by Captain Mohan Ranganathan who was assigned the task of inspecting the Mangalore and Calicut airports after the Mangalore air-crash and that in the Mangalore crash in 2010 the tabletop airport problem was highlighted.
Allegations related to Aviation Safety in the Air Crash Incident
The critical state of aviation safety in Calicut airport and in other airports across the country was asserted. Due to rampant corruption and a failure of the system of checks and balances due to allied interests of bodies like Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Airport Authority of India (AAI) allegations have been made that India deliberately violates several norms prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) and other domestic norms resulting an accident in the present.
Allegations regarding the state of aviation safety in the country have been made on different fronts in the petition.
It was highlighted by the petitioner that grant of licenses to airports without complying with the prescribed Standard and Recommended Practices have been permitted DGCA and deliberately the AAI withheld or falsified these deviations which ought to be reported.
Even after several crashes and after the issues were reported to the Government, the Indian authorities as per the petitioner had been callous with banning the use of Boeing 737 Max aircraft as well as Prat and Whitney engines.
Further it was alleged that many airlines even to date use the P&W engines and they been extending their date of replacement indefinitely and that the aircraft maintenance system is in a deplorable state.
Due to the fault of a DGCA approved Maintenance and Repair Organisation (MRO) the Ghatkoper crash of 2018 happened but that the same was covered up in inquiry as the former Civil Aviation Minister and DGCA had substantial interests in the MRO involved.
Allegations state that many unqualified pilots are able to manage a flying license as there is a prevalence of sham flying schools in the country and that aircrafts are being repaired/ maintained by unauthorized engineers and that this increases the risks to aircrafts due to faulty maintenance.
There has been no implementation of Duty Time Limitations for pilots, maintenance engineers, and cabin crew despite recommendations by the DGCA and the Court of Inquiry of the Mangalore air crash, which results in high fatigue amongst the aviation personnel which can result in many air crashes in future. Incidents of maintenance logs being manipulated and aircrafts released to service without actual checks have been expressed.
Claims of even more dangerous Flying Duty Time Limitations Regulations by the DGCA to be implemented from December, 2020 which will lead to a higher prevalence of air crashes have been questioned. According to him, pilots do not stand to fight these regulations as they are worried about losing their jobs.
Air Navigation Services
The work of Air Traffic Control Officers was also highlighted involving several equipment many which were malfunction and the same was brought to the notice of AAI but to no avail.
Allegations to the Government and the airport authorities have been made who over time side-lined the efficient Air Traffic Control Officers norms and has filled the system with corrupt and inefficient officers.
The officers are assigned duties like giving height approvals for buildings and expansion of runways which is considered as dangerous.
Calicut Airport Air Crash
It was expressed that the Calicut airport conforms only to Code 4C classification which prohibits wide-body aircraft and despite this, the current DGCA, Shri Arun Kumar, had reissued the permission for wide-body aircraft operation from Calicut. The incident of July 2019 was also mentioned where the DGCA safety audit had identified several safety deficiencies at Calicut including presence of excessive rubber deposits and cracks in the runway and yet the DGCA renewed the license of Calicut airport from mid-2019 to October 2021 without resolving these safety deficiency findings.
Demands by the Petitioner in the Air Crash Incident
An inquiry into the air crash by an open Court of Inquiry headed by a Retired Supreme Court Judge or at least a Retired High Court Judge has been demanded.
Contentions by the petitioner have been made that it is necessary as the AAIB is not independent and to support its conclusions in the Ghatkoper crash had tampered evidence.
The requirement of the Judge is to ensure that every issue taken up is recorded and nothing is tampered with. This can be accomplished only by a Judge and from the Mangalore experience, we can vouch that no high-ranking officer of the Airforce also is capable to conduct an independent and impartial investigation.
Request to include a ‘Human Factors’ Specialist in the team has also been made and demand to remove Jasbir Singh Larhga from the Panel of investigators (citing his questionable inquiry in Ghatkoper crash) and replacement with a more appropriate officer with impeccable integrity has been asked.
A criminal investigation has been demanded by the Petitioner into the crash by the CBI as the local police are unequipped to handle the complexity of air crash investigations which might reveal faults of Governmental bodies not situated in Calicut.
Submissions by the petitioner were made that CBI has to take up the case as it is a prima facie case involving criminal prosecution of officers to avoid these air crashes in the future.