A major disaster was averted when a Jet Airways Boeing plane carrying 142 passengers and eight crew members on a flight from Doha to Kochi landed at Thiruvananthapuram with near-empty fuel tanks, in an incident termed as "serious" by DGCA which suspended both the pilots.
The fuel in the Boeing 737-800 aircraft was on "reserve" after it did six go-arounds over Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram airports, DGCA sources said today.
The plane had only 270-kg of fuel left at the time of landing at Thiruvananthapuram airport as against a mandatory requirement of 1,500-kg of fuel along with alternative fuel, the sources said, adding, "Even a 10 minute taxiing of a Boeing 737-800 burns 270-kg of fuel."
Describing the incident as "serious", the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has asked the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB), which functions under the Civil Aviation ministry, to probe the incident which took place on August 18. The civil aviation regulator suspended the two pilots pending inquiry, the sources said.
Following the incident, DGCA is now reviewing the fuel uplift policy of the airline to examine whether it was carrying less fuel to save costs, they said. The aircraft was scheduled to land at Kochi airport but, after failing to do so despite three go-arounds due to bad weather, the pilot sought diversion to Thiruvananthapuram airport citing a "fuel emergency" rather than taking it to the nearest airport, which was Bangalore.
"Thiruvananthapuram airport also had bad weather and the pilot could land there only on the fourth attempt. Moreover, in a violation of unscheduled landing norms, the commander diverted the plane to Thiruvananthapuram and not the nearest airport, which was Bangalore in this case," the sources said.
According to the DGCA's fuel policy, an aircraft should carry taxi fuel, trip fuel, contingency fuel (which is five per cent of the trip fuel), alternative fuel as well as holding fuel for 30 minutes.
Jet Airways, in a statement, said the flight was diverted to Thiruvananthapuram due to low visibility at the Kochi Airport.
"Jet Airways flight 9W 555 en route from Doha to Kochi, was diverted to Trivandrum as a precautionary measure as the runway at Kochi was not visible due to the presence of low clouds. This is as per the standard operating safety procedure. The flight landing with 141 guests was uneventful," the airline said. DGCA sources said there were 142 passengers.
It further said that safety is of paramount importance, and to this end, planning of flight operations are conducted with a very high level of safety.
"This includes a fuel uplift that not only meets all regulatory requirements, it has additional buffers to cater to unexpected scenarios including poor weather at the alternate airport," the statement added.
The airline, however, avoided any mention of the suspension of the flight commander and his co-pilot. It said it would not make any further comments as the matter is under investigation by the airline safety team as also the DGCA.