Attendants fly while pilots nap
Two Air India pilots have been suspended after they allegedly left an Airbus carrying 166 passengers from Bangkok to New Delhi on autopilot with flight attendants in charge while they slept in business class.
- Published: 4/05/2013 at 02:41 PM
- Newspaper section: topstories
The Daily Mail reported that the incident took place on an April 12 flight from Bangkok to the Indian capital, when the co-pilot and the pilot left the cockpit after having spent some time instructing the attendants how to fly.
But the pair had to rush back and take control of the A-320 after one of the attendants accidentally turned off the autopilot, sources told the London-based newspaper.
They said pilot B.K. Soni and co-pilot Ravindra Nath napped in business class, leaving attendants Kanika Kala and J. Bhatt in charge of the plane.
A senior member of the cabin crew witnessed the incident and reported it to airline management. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is investigating the incident.
An Air India official admitted the cockpit was under the control of attendants for 20 minutes. Sources told the Daily Mail that the attendants were in charge for 40 minutes, and Arun Mishra, director-general of Civil Aviation, said they were in the cockpit for the "larger part of the three-hour flight".
The flight took off from Bangkok at 8.55am on April 12. Half-an-hour and 33,000 feet into the flight, First Officer Ravindra Nath went to the washroom. He asked flight attendant J. Bhatt to occupy the co-pilot's seat in his absence.
Minutes later, Captain B.K. Soni called Kanika Kala and asked her to take his seat. The source said Soni did not leave the cockpit immediately but spent some time teaching the two attendants how to operate the aircraft before joining Nath in business class.
Putting an airplane on autopilot does not mean pilots can leave the cockpit. They have to be present to monitor the flight path and can turn off autopilot if required.
Air India said in a statement that "at no point of time was the cockpit left unattended by the cockpit crew".
It added, "During the incident, due to distraction the co-pilot had touched the autopilot disconnect button momentarily. But the same was connected back."