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WATCH: Twin-airplane near accident at busy Mumbai airport raises safety concerns, highlights ATC pressure

WATCH: Twin-airplane near accident at busy Mumbai airport raises safety concerns, highlights ATC pressure
Bengaluru might have been gaining in notoriety for its ridiculous roadway jams, but it looks like Mumbai will steal the cake for the most absurd traffic incident this week. In a page straight out season 2 of Breaking Bad, Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport witnessed a harrowing incident yesterday when an air communication mishap led to two aircraft coming perilously close on the runway, separated by a mere 509 meters.

This near-miss involved an IndiGo flight from Indore and an Air India jet bound for Thiruvananthapuram, and it sparked a significant investigation by aviation authorities. Videos have since depicted the Air India jet AI657 taking off while the IndiGo flight 6E 6053 simultaneously landed on the same runway. According to reports, both of these aircrafts were given clearances for their respective actions.

As busy as airports get, only one aircraft is allowed to enter one runway at a time, simply put. According to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) guidelines, such clearances should ensure that the landing aircraft does not cross the runway threshold until the departing aircraft has safely left the runway. This protocol appears to have been breached in this incident.
Contradictory statements and evidence
The Air Traffic Controllers' Guild quickly issued a statement asserting that the visibility was good and that there was no air proximity issue, implying that safety was not compromised. According to the body, they call the incident a “wow moment” for outlookers, but emphasise that it is normal for the trained experts who perform such tasks on a daily basis.

However, data from Flightradar — a Swedish real-time international flight tracking service — and the widely circulated video on social media has clearly suggested otherwise.

Flightradar24 highlighted the concerning proximity in a tweet, accompanied by ADS-B data that further contradicted the Guild's claims. This discrepancy between the official statement and independent data has intensified scrutiny over the incident.
Reactions from airlines and authorities
Both IndiGo and Air India have stood by their pilots, emphasising that they adhered strictly to ATC instructions. IndiGo stated, "At IndiGo, passenger safety is paramount, and we have reported the incident as per procedure." Air India echoed this sentiment, confirming their adherence to standard protocols.

The DGCA has swiftly moved to investigate, de-rostering the air traffic controller involved. This inquiry aims to establish whether all operational norms were observed by both the ATC and the pilots during the incident. Such investigations are crucial to maintaining the integrity and safety of aviation operations, especially in high-traffic airports like Mumbai.
Spotlight on ATC pressures
The incident has cast a spotlight on the immense pressure faced by air traffic controllers, particularly at high-density airports. Mumbai airport, operating with a single-runway system and crossing runways, handles over 850 flights daily, with runway 27 alone managing about 46 arrivals and departures per hour — translating a staggering frequency of a flight landing or taking off every 1.3 seconds!

This intense traffic volume is only set to turn worse as plans are underway to increase operations to 951 flights per day during the summer schedule. The Guild emphasised this point in a post on X, highlighting the significant stress and high stakes involved in managing air traffic at such a busy airport. Ensuring the safety of thousands of passengers daily requires precision and calm under pressure, a challenging task in any scenario.


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