A pilot and co-pilot have been removed from duty after a dispute in the cockpit that witnesses said involved physical violence.
Verbal abuse and a fistfight reportedly took place in the cockpit of an Air India flight when the co-pilot attacked the captain before takeoff. The incident attracted extra attention after last month’s Germanwings crash in the French Alps.
“The commander told his co-pilot to take down critical take off figures for the flight. This involves writing critical facts like the number of passengers on board, takeoff weight and fuel uptake on a small paper card (trim sheet) that is displayed in front of the pilots for the entire duration of the flight. The co-pilot took offense at this and reportedly beat up the captain,” the Times of India cited an airline source as saying.
Air India Flight 611 was reportedly minutes away from taking off from Jaipur for Delhi when the incident happened.
The claims by the source weren’t confirmed by Air India (AI) as the carrier’s spokesman, GP Rao, said that instead of a violent fight, “there was an argument between the two and nothing more.” He added that the pilots “have settled the issue.”
According to the spokesman, the commander made a decision “in the larger interest of the airline” not to delay the flight any further and move ahead as planned. The correct procedure would have been to report the incident, but that would result in everyone’s plans being ruined and the flight canceled.
Despite no violence in the cockpit, “both the pilots have been de-rostered [taken off flying duty],” and an inquiry has been ordered into the incident, Rao said.
The captain did mark the incident in a log entry with AI movement control after the pair landed the plane safely in Delhi.
It later turned out that the airline had previously received complaints over the co-pilot’s behavior while duty.
“Three years back, he asked the commander of a flight to come out of the cockpit, remove the stars on his shirt collar [epaulettes] and then fought with him. A year later, another commander complained about his ‘rude and unbecoming’ behavior in the cockpit and questioned his state of mind,” a senior AI commander told the Times of India.
“AI and the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) should examine this latest problem in the cockpit. If the complaints about the said co-pilot’s behavior are found true, then in the interest of aviation safety the authorities must act,” another pilot said.
The incident takes place amid rising concerns for passenger safety among the AI staff. Recently an association representing Air India pilots wrote to the DGCA a complaint that co-pilots were being “forced to work overtime.”
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“These co-pilots have being receiving an ad-hoc payment for more than 18 months which amounts to less than 1/3rd of their actual salary. They are being forced to work overtime without any remuneration and also are not allowed to take any kind of leave,” said the letter by the Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association as cited by PTI. “Putting these highly-stressed and financially over-burdened co-pilots in the same cockpit… is a perfect recipe for disaster.”
The Air India incident comes as aviation authorities in Europe and around the world are implementing new safety regulations after the death of 150 people in the Germanwings Flight 9525 crash in the French Alps on March 27.
The investigators believe the crash was intentionally caused by the co-pilot, Andreas Lubitz, who was declared “unfit to work” by a doctor due to his suicidal tendencies, but kept this information from his airline.
While in the air, Lubitz locked the captain out of the cockpit and initiated the decent of the plane, which saw the aircraft colliding with a mountain.
In response to the tragedy, European Aviation Safety Agency as well as Canada, New Zealand, Germany and Australia implemented new regulations, requiring two authorized personnel, including at least one pilot, to be present in the cockpit at all times.