Air India misused aviation minister's name for Tokyo flight

New Delhi: Every day brings more bad news for badly struggling national carrier Air India. Reports now suggest it may have compelled a set of four pilots to operate a B747 jumbo flight to Tokyo in the month of March under false pretences, informing the overworked crew that the clearance for the extra assignment had been provided by none other than the civil aviation minister himself.

Reports suggest that the incident took place on 19 March in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami crisis in Japan when the Fukushima reactors had already been badly hit and there was a general scare prevailing in the nation about radiation contamination.

Air India apparently asked four of its overworked Boeing 747-400 pilots - two commanders and two co-pilots - to operate the 19-hour, quick turnaround return flight to Tokyo, which departed Delhi at 6pm and returned at 1pm the next day.

A day earlier, reports suggest, Air India officials had briefed minister Vyalar Ravi about prevailing conditions in Tokyo and left. The next day they summoned the crew and informed them that the flight had received clearance from the minister himself inspite of the fact that the concerned pilots had already exceeded the maximum limit of extra duty a pilot is legally allowed.

The pilots obliged by reporting for duty.

Under the circumstances AI ought to have taken clearance from the DGCA, which would have turned down the request as the carrier had other Boeing 747 pilots available who were fresh. Why these pilots were not rostered for duty remains a mystery –apparently flights to Tokyo were not very popular then.

Director general DGCA, Bharat Bhushan, has denied that he was approached for permission to operate the flight, while reports say AI too has denied that it broke any rules.