Air India 101 ILS fails but lands safely in New York

I can fault Air India on the passenger experience, but they have perhaps some of the most experienced pilots on their rosters. It is their job to get you where you go and get you there safely. So while most of the aircraft flying is now believed to be computerised, the pilots are still the people who do the heavy lifting. And hence why experienced captains are always in demand.

This experience came handy last week when Air India had a flight which went massively wrong because of instrument failures. On September 11, AI 101 got ready for its usual mission between Delhi and New York JFK. What should have been a smooth flight, turned out to be a multiple instrument failure.

The equipment that would help the aircraft perform an instrument-based landing went kaput, and that meant the pilots had to attempt an old-style visual navigation landing. This came with its own challenges, given the pilots needed a high enough clear view without clouds to be able to attempt the VNAV. However, given the aircraft had been flying for over 14 hours, they did not have too much fuel to play around and divert very far.

Hear this interaction with the ATC at JFK. Everyone did a fabulous job holding their nerve and getting this plane on the ground. The recording is courtesy LiveATC.net.

Like you can hear, the plane safely made its way to Newark instead of JFK, and flew back the next day, perhaps empty. On September 13, the plane was back in service! Here is how the flight path looked towards arrival, courtesy FlightRadar24.

AI 101 Flight Status

It is moments like these that make me proud of Air India. Perhaps their ground staff have quite a bit to learn from their flying crew about what Air India truly stands for.

Comments

  1. I cringed at that fact that it was 9/11, imagine the thought.

    Having said that, the plane had 7200litre of fuel, which is not that they were running out of fuel. Also lot of the instruments are independent of each other, thus most of them failing seems something fundamentally wrong. Will wait to hear the official report. Any idea if the FAA ot NTSB is going to investigate the same?

  2. Sorry, but I have to disagree on the analysis. It is just not possible that so many systems failed en-route from DEL to JFK. Most likely, some systems were already not working when the aircraft departed DEL but the crew decided to wing it anyway. The commander should have refused to fly the airplane from DEL until these were fixed. It is highly negligent to endanger the lives of the crew and passengers by flying an unsafe airplane. Most aircraft accidents are the result of multiple things going wrong at one time. Crews may be able to handle one or two failures but no-autoland, no-autobrake, no-ILS (all three systems non-functional!!!), low on fuel, low visibility etc. etc.

    Sure, the crew may be talented but a smart crew would not have let themselves be put in this condition. Air India should inculcate a culture of safety that enables the crew to speak up against unsafe conditions. Rather be late than have 370+ deaths on their hands. I would rather have a meticulous and safe crew than cowboys at the helm. This sort of hero-giri should stay in the movies.

    • @Rahul Garg, I’d like to have a bit more substantiation on ” It is just not possible”. I don’t believe any pilot in their right minds would fly a plane with instruments gone wrong.

      • You are right, I should have instead said “it strains credulity that so many systems failed en-route from DEL to JFK”.

        The failed systems listed by the AI pilots in the above Youtube video include the two radio altimeters, TCAS, Autoland, Windshear, Autospeed brake and APU. It is possible that the Autoland is non-functional due to the two broken radio altimeters or could be faulty on its own. All the other systems are independent of each other. Had these systems failed previously, repaired and recorded in the maintenance logs? Did the pilots decide to fly anyway since the backup was working? New York ARTCC is one of the busiest air corridors in the world, so it is curious to be flying with a non-functional TCAS system. Plenty of aircraft fly without a functioning APU on short flights. However, an in-flight startable APU is a requirement for ETOPS, which this flight certainly was.

        Maybe I am wrong, but like I said, it strains credulity.

        • A lot of wrong assumptions. APU on a 777 can be U/S for 180 mins ETOPS. Without TCAS the flight is not possible. Auto speedbrakrs do depend on Radio Altimeters. Auto land not possible without RAs.

          You are right on one count – may be you are wrong.

        • These equipment that failed are quite critical, and there is no way pilots will accept a plane in this condition, not even AI, however bad their reputation is at the moment.

          Incredulous as it may seem, there have been instances in the past where seemingly independent systems have failed at once. Considering that the plane flew back to DEL the next day, there should be some work done by the ground personnel in NY. It would be interesting to see what the report says.
          Good job by everybody involved.

    • No Pilot will even accept the aircraft if their instruments or even a minor detail is not upto mark. Even Air India Engineering won’t clear the plane from Delhi.

      It’s a machine , things happen. Kudos to Air India training and pilots to have pulled a VnAV landing .

  3. What’s truly amazing is that every time I am departing/arriving EWR, an AI plane is sitting there in the morning/overnight! Too many irrops for me…!

  4. Superb handling of a very precarious situation. And a perfect coordination by JFK ATC.
    CRM at It’s best.
    Eventually it’s man over machine !

  5. Totally agree! Kudos to the pilots for being so calm and to the ATC for their problem solving.

    What AI messes up in maintenance they make up through their experienced pilots. I have had some of the best landings with AI.

    If only they paid more attention to their planes and customer service.

        • Ajay, for pilots normal landing is doing their job. But in such circumstances with fault in aircraft, safe landing is commendable and deserve reward.
          With AI history getting pay on time will also be a reward. lol

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