8th Jan, 2016: I took the AI 864 flight (Airbus 319) from Mumbai today morning scheduled for 7am – delayed at start itself by half an hour due to bad weather in Delhi. The pilot aborted one landing and was attempting the next one. As he descended lower and lower into the fog it was getting darker and darker … but no sign of any buildings, vegetation or lights. I was seated on the Window and could hardly see the runway or its marked lines till just about 2 seconds before the tyres hit the turf. The guy on the aisle seat first let out a sharp cry at the thud of landing but then quickly corrected himself ‘we seem to have landed’. It was my first landing in zero (or near zero) visibility. Believe me, the fog was so dense that through the aircraft’s slow progress towards its bay, i could not even see the grass on the sides.
The pilot groped out of the active runway but then it was a tough one in the subsidiary runways. He halted at least 2-3times each for 3-4 minutes not being able to see and push forward. Apparently after it lands and is out of active runway the operations are manual (the next day papers said they had ‘follow me’ procedures in which a vehicle goes in front and the aircraft follows). In one of these halts the Captain announced that there had been no take offs for the previous 4-5 hours and that ours was the first landing and hence there was no vacant bay for docking and he expected 10-15 minutes delay to prepare a non aerobridge bay. It took him more than 35 minutes after leaving the runway to dock and open the doors. From the next day’s papers i learnt visibility was zero between 2.30 am to 10.30 am and we landed at 9.30 am.
I asked the one of the hostesses if i could speak to the captain and pay my compliments. She said that they are allowed to communicate with him only in an emergency and that paying compliments would not count as one.
I asked her if she was used to such landings. “No Siirrr… this is my first such landing in 12 years with AI”.
“Did you feel scared”
“No. Not at all. The pilots are well trained. And we have faith in his capabilities”.
While alighting I met the Commander who had gotten out first and was inspecting the plane and congratulated him for his skilful landing. “yeah it was zero visibility or the lowest permitted for landing – 75 feet (or is it meters)… but it is all instrument landing system… Just assume that it was working properly and follow the instructions…”
I took a selfie and soon half a dozen others followed. But then Captain Minocha (in the pic) was cool and composed. A new experience it definitely was.
If it is safety that is of prime concern like in monsoon weather and now foggy weather, i would any day prefer Air India.
PS: pl feel free to share it with as many as you can. After all we keep criticising Public sector all the time. But we earn the right to criticise the 100 things that go wrong only if we also assume the obligation and responsibility to applaud the one thing that goes right. Look at these pilots’ plight. During the tenure of a minister known for his profuligate ways they were not being paid their salaries for 4-5 months. Their allowances were sized down by 35% over 12-13 years (in money terms. In real terms far more). If high skilled trained jobs are our universe, in comparison to private sector, AI pilots are slum dwellers (income wise). Yet they chug along…I am not mistaking an act of skill as an act of courage … but still…