Mumbai near-miss blame game continues, Patil joins issue with IAF (Lead)

February 11th, 2009 - 11:32 pm ICT by IANS  

Pratibha PatilNew Delhi/Bangalore, Feb 11 (IANS) The Indian Air Force Wednesday gave a clean chit to its chopper pilots who narrowly missed colliding with a passenger aircraft at Mumbai airport, but Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel contested this, while the aviation watchdog citing an on-going probe declined to be drawn into the blame game.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have a perfect working relationship (with the IAF). We are endeavouring for this,” Patel told reporters in New Delhi. “We need better coordination,” he admitted.

Patel’s comments came as the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major, stoutly defended the helicopter pilots, saying they were among the best in the force.

“The pilots flying the helicopters are among the best in the air force. We’re flying the president of India, for God’s sake,” an exasperated Major told reporters on the sidelines of the Aero India international air show that opened at Yelahanka air base near Bangalore Wednesday.

A Delhi-bound Air India aircraft with some 170 passengers and 10-member crew on board minutes before take-off Monday averted crashing into three IAF choppers, one of which was ferrying President Pratibha Patil.

The air force chief said the Mumbai Air Traffic Control (ATC) had given the requisite clearance to the IAF choppers to land at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport on the eventful day.

“The IAF choppers were not at fault and were given clearance to land on the runway by the ATC,” Major maintained.

“The IAF helicopters were not told to change the frequencies and no pilot can change these without being asked to do so. I think we need to fine tune procedures on the (regulator) DGCA’s part,” the air force chief added.

On its part, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, while ordering a probe into the near miss Monday, said that officers at the ATC were aware of the presidential visit and watching the approach movement of her entourage.

“We have derostered two officials who were at the ATC (air traffic control) then. The probe is still underway. We will get to the bottom of the matter by the weekend,” said a senior DGCA official.

The joint director general for investigation with the regulatory authority, A.K. Chopra, is heading the eight-member probe.

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