IN SEPARATE incidents, two SpiceJet aircraft returned to their airports of origin shortly after take-off on Sunday with one suffering a bird hit in Patna and the other from Delhi facing a technical glitch that led to a “cabin pressurisation issue”. In a third incident, an IndiGo aircraft turned back to Guwahati a few minutes after takeoff due to a bird hit.
All the three incidents will be probed by the aviation safety regulator DGCA.
On Sunday afternoon, a Delhi-bound Boeing 737-800 operated by the Gurugram-based low-cost airline made an emergency landing in Patna, minutes after take-off from there, after one of its engines suffered a bird hit. The aircraft was carrying 185 passengers and six crew members.
A senior Government official said the pilots suspected a bird hit on the left engine during takeoff but continued to climb. Later, the cabin crew informed the pilot in command that they witnessed sparks from the engine, following which the pilots shut the power plant and undertook an emergency landing, the official said.
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“During rotation (takeoff), the cockpit crew suspected a bird hit on Engine No.1 (left engine). Since the crew did not observe any abnormality, the aircraft continued further climb,” he said.
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“Subsequently, the cabin crew informed pilots about sparks coming from the engine…Crew declared PAN-PAN and decided to return to Patna. ATC was apprised about the same, and aircraft landed safely back in Patna with no injury to crew and passengers,” the official said.
The PAN-PAN message is signalled by cockpit crew to declare that they have a situation that is urgent but does not pose an immediate danger to anyone’s life or to the aircraft itself.
Aviation authorities have listed bird hits among their most important safety priorities. The problem is all the more during monsoons when the presence of insects in open areas, such as airfields, attracts birds.
Onlookers near the Patna airport reported seeing dark smoke coming from the aircraft’s left engine as it made its approach back.
In a statement, a SpiceJet spokesperson said: “On takeoff, during rotation, cockpit crew suspected bird hit on Engine #1. As a precautionary measure and as per SOP, Captain shutdown the affected engine and decided to return to Patna. The aircraft landed safely in Patna and passengers were safely deboarded. Post flight inspection showed bird hit with 3 fan blades damaged.”
Earlier on Sunday, another SpiceJet aircraft, a Bombardier Q400 Dash 8, developed a cabin pressurisation issue after departure from Delhi. As the aircraft climbed out of Delhi, the pilots noted that the cabin pressure did not build up in line with the altitude gain. Following this, the crew decided to return and the aircraft landed safely back in Delhi.
This aircraft model typically cruises at around 20,000 feet, and given that air pressure decreases at higher altitudes, the planes are designed to artificially build up pressure in the cabin similar to lower altitudes.
On this incident, a SpiceJet spokesperson said: “On June 19, SpiceJet Q400 aircraft was operating SG-2962 (Delhi-Jabalpur). During initial climb, crew observed cabin pressure differential was not building up along with rise in cabin altitude. Aircraft was levelled off at 6000 ft. Pressurisation was not regained. PIC (pilot in command) decided to return to Delhi. Aircraft landed safely at Delhi.”
In the IndiGo incident, a Government official said the Airbus A320neo aircraft’s left engine got damaged after suffering a bird hit when it was at an altitude of 1,600 feet after takeoff for Delhi. “The engine was shut down and the aircraft returned to Guwahati,” the official said.
Confirming the incident, IndiGo said in a statement: “IndiGo Airbus A320neo (VT-ITB) operating flight 6E 6394 from Guwahati-Delhi returned to Guwahati airport, due to a suspected bird hit after takeoff. All passengers were accommodated on another flight to Delhi. The aircraft is being held on ground for necessary inspections.”