NEW DELHI: An Ahmedabad-London Air India flight had to be escorted by two Hungarian fighter jets after it lost contact with the air traffic control (ATC) for nearly an hour on Friday while flying over the east European country .
The flight carrying 231 passengers and 18 crew later landed safely at London’s Heathrow Airport.
This is the second such scare triggered by an incom scare triggered by an incommunicado Indian plane over European skies in less than a month after the German air force had to scramble two fighter planes for a Jet Airways Mumbai-London flight on February 16. Friday’s scare may have been triggered by a communication failure as the AI pilots were bewildered to spot the Hungarian fighter jets escorting their Dreamliner, according to a preliminary probe by the carrier. The pilots switched to a dif ferent frequency to speak to one of the Hungarian pilots, asking him as to why the plane was being escorted.
The AI pilots were told that the fighter jets had to be scrambled as the plane was “out of touch” for a while. Even after this conversation, the Hungarian jets kept flying with the AI plane. The AI pilots again spoke to the fighter pilot and told him that the passengers were alarmed as they could see the jets flanking the plane, a highly placed source said.
Only after this did the fighter jets fly away and AI plane kept flying to London.
“Our head of flight safety is investigating how the plane lost contact for somewhere between 45 minutes to an hour during which, given its speed, it would have flown over 600-800 km crossing over at least two EU nations,” said a senior AI official.
There are three main reasons why pilots lose contact with ATC. They may switch into a wrong frequency as flying over different countries require frequent frequency changes. This may lead to mistakes. Or, a pilot’s headset may be set at very low volume due to which he can’t hear attempts to reach them on the emergency frequency on which any plane can be reached. And the third reason is that both pilots may doze off.
AI spokesman G P Rao said: “The plane took off from Ahmedabad for London at 7 am Friday . It lost control with local ATC over Hungary for some time. The flight landed safely at London Heathrow at 11.06 am (all times local). The airline is conducting an inquiry into this.”