AI flight captain locked out after loo break as door protests

In an incident that clearly points to faulty maintenance by India's national carrier, the captain of an Air India flight from Delhi to Bangalore got locked out of the cockpit after taking a toilet break, causing panic among passengers and forcing an emergency landing at Bhopal.

The 135 passengers on board the Airbus A-320 flight were stranded at Bhopal's Raja Bhoj Airport for over two hours, as the door between cockpit and cabin was jammed so badly that even after landing in Bhopal, technicians could not open it from outside, and had to enter the cockpit through a window.

They finally managed to open the door from inside the cockpit.

"A screw of the lock got loose and fell, jamming the lock. Prima facie, AI crew acted according to procedure and there was no lapse on their part, but the incident puts a question mark on maintenance. We have initiated a probe," said an official of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation.

Under DGCA rules, in such situations where a pilot has to go out, a cabin crew member must be called inside the cockpit to ensure that there are two people, including a pilot, at all times.

But on Monday the captain did not have to call a cabin crew member into the cockpit as a supernumerary (trainee pilot) was there to observe how a plane is flown. Moreover the co-pilot was also a commander. A severe shortage of co-pilots in the AI means that very often a plane is flown with two commanders.

With the captain locked out about one hour into the flight and the trainee pilot inside, the second pilot decided to land at the nearest airport which was Bhopal.

Civil aviation minister Ajit Singh, said, ''We have taken the incident seriously. The DGCA is investigating the matter.''

The AI-403 flight is a premium, direct flight on the Delhi-Bangalore route.