400 Haj pilgrims were to take the Air India flight
Air India’s Jeddah-bound Boeing 747 aircraft was grounded at the Chennai airport on Monday, after the tow bar of a trolley pierced the outer cowling of the engine while the aircraft was being towed from the remote parking bay.
Airport Director H.S. Suresh said around 8 a.m. the aircraft was towed from parking bay 30 to the contact bay. The tow tractor driver failed to notice the trolley tow bar kept at a 90 degree elevation near bay 31. It hit the outer cowling of the first engine on the left side of the aircraft and pierced it.
A senior Airports Authority of India (AAI) official said trolleys, belonging to a private ground handling agency, were not supposed to be left near Bay 31. Whenever the trolleys were detached from a tractor, the drivers used to put the tow bar on the ground. In this case the driver left it in a standing position, resulting in the accident.
The trolleys were brought to attend to a Sri Lankan airways flight expected sometime later in the morning.
It was the lack of apron discipline among ground handling agencies and failure on the part of AAI to strictly monitor the movement of trolleys and other vehicles in the operational area that led to accidents of this kind, according to the official.
The presence of too many ground handling agencies was also a reason for accidents, resulting in serious damages to aircraft.
This was the fourth incident in the last three months at the airport in which an aircraft had been seriously damaged, the official said.
Four hundred passengers were set to fly in the grounded Air India flight, exclusively meant for the Haj trip. When contacted, Air India officials said a preliminary enquiry had been ordered. The Director General of Civil Aviation will conduct a separate enquiry into the accident, airport sources said. The national carrier brought in another Boeing 747 aircraft from Mumbai to take the stranded passengers to Jeddah, the Air India sources said.
D. Sudhakara Reddy, national president, Air Passengers Association of India, said he received calls from some of the passengers of the flight. He was shocked to hear that an important part of the aircraft engine was damaged due to the negligence on the part of the technical team towing the aircraft from a remote parking bay.
He wanted to know when Air India would change its attitude and become passenger-friendly and a safe operator. “How long will the government continue to support Air India…? How long will tax payers’ money be used to put an airline that does not show any sign of improving?” he asked.