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Thursday, July 29, 2010

The good, the bad and the worse (not in that order)

First the bad:

Among the very last thing I wanted to hear this morning midway through my 05:50 commuter (i.e. puddle jumper) flight from Delhi to Visakhapatnam which took off in Mmonsoon rains was, "Ladies and gentlemen...  we're going to be making an unscheduled landing back in Delhi due to technical problems with our aircraft."

The worse:

Having to sit through the above-mentioned announcement in Hindi, while everyone else on the flight performed a collectivesharp intake of breath... and then with the subsequent exhale, began jabbering in frightened tones to their neighbors... in Hindi, Kashmiri, Urdu, Tamil, Kannada, Telugu, Sindhi, Konkani, Manipuri, Nepali and Dogri, etc... seemingly everything but English... leaving me to wonder what the pilot had just announced.

Finally, after a pause of what seemed like ten minutes (but was probably closer to ten seconds), the announcement was repeated in English as related above.  But that was all the information we were given.  No updates... no clarification... no odds for a safe landing. 

For 10 or 15 minutes, everyone on the plane alternated between panicked chattering with their neighbors, and listening intently to the sounds of the aircraft to try to discern abnormal sounds that might indicate impending doom.

It was only after several people began pestering the flight attendants for information that one of them disappeared into the cockpit to convince the pilot to, you know, maybe share a little bit more.

As the flight attendant reappeared, the captain's voice came over the intercom and again, in Hindi, he launched into an extended explanation of our fate.  I watched the faces around me visibly relax, so I know the news wasn't as bad as I'd imagined. 

The good (finally):

Sure enough, when the English translation was given he explained that after take-off the flight crew had tried unsuccessfully to activate the auto-pilot.  They had spent almost 30 minutes performing diagnostics and trouble shooting (obviously while flying the plane manually).  But once they determined that they couldn't bring the auto-pilot back on line, Indian civil aviation regulations stipulated that, during Monsoon conditions, they were not allowed to complete the flight, and had to return to their point of origin.

This last bit confused me since by the time we turned around we were at least half way to our destination.  Maybe the conditions in Visakhapatnam were worse than in Delhi, but it still seemed an odd rule given that the real dangerous bit was the landing... and the Autopilot would, presumably, play no part in that.

Anyway, I missed my morning meeting and am currently cooling my heels at a local hotel coffee shop waiting for my afternoon meeting time to roll around.   

I have an evening flight to Mumbai (with a brief stop in Hyderabad), so here's to hoping I can maintain my perfect (tfu tfu tfu) travel record of having the number of landings equal the number of take-offs.

Posted by David Bogner on July 29, 2010 | Permalink

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Keyn ayin hara.

Posted by: Erica | Jul 29, 2010 1:22:44 PM

Glad to hear you are OK.

How is the coffee over there? I know this is important to you.

Posted by: Sarah | Jul 29, 2010 5:18:14 PM

The autopilot is needed to use the Autoland feature. If the weather is below certain minimums, Autoland has to be used to land. The pilots are not allowed to land the aircraft manually.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autoland

Posted by: Karl Newman | Jul 29, 2010 6:39:25 PM

... I can maintain my perfect (tfu tfu tfu) travel record of having the number of landings equal the number of take-offs.

Of course, if you post from the air someday, you will have 1 less landing than take off at that moment in time :-)

Posted by: Mark | Jul 29, 2010 6:41:18 PM

Stay strong and be safe.

Posted by: Jack | Jul 29, 2010 6:54:31 PM

Sarah... While the hotel coffee is pretty good, I spend my days and evenings drinking Chai (since that's what I'm offered at 99% of my meetings).

Posted by: treppenwitz | Jul 29, 2010 11:22:59 PM

Considering how India manages its road traffic, I'm surprised planes do not routinely run into each other.

Posted by: bernie | Aug 1, 2010 2:22:15 AM

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