We had the Fly Dubai/FZ (Flt: FZ576) incident that got the local social media, literally, in turmoil. Presumably, the incident would have gone unnoticed had it happened during daytime. How could anyone, with a phone camera in hand, not record an aircraft emitting erratic loud bangs and jetting out flame in the night sky? It looked ominous, no doubt, but the trouble is, our media needs nothing more than a simple “go round” to be termed as “overshooting”. Some media outlets even reported it landed in Delhi, while in reality, it flew out to Dubai uneventfully after the compressor stall died down on its own. Some wondered about it not landing here and thought if TIA was deficient. It was just bewildering, how could a sensationally serious story like this end suddenly?
Compressor stall is much like what happens to us when a small amount of liquid or food particle gets inadvertently into our windpipe. The body immediately induces coughing as it tries to expel the irritant. A jet engine acts much in the same manner. It also “coughs”, as the smooth airflow is interrupted, as turbulence and pressure fluctuations are created within the turbine. But reasons like worn/dirty/contaminated compressor parts, and in-flight icing can also trigger it. So does operating beyond the engine design envelope or improper engine handling. But it is unthinkable that Fly Dubai, an Emirate government-owned low-cost airline and a partner of famed Emirates Airlines, keeps its engines in a poor state nor expects its crew to mishandle them.
We do not know what was said or not said in the airport air band, but Civil Aviation Authorities (CAAN) officials claim that no mention was ever made of bird strikes. But CAAN was outraged that Fly Dubai gave TIA a bad name by blaming the bird strike, not the engine malfunction. But it is undisputed that, in the ongoing current dispute, the first salvo was fired by CAAN. It publicized banning two Fly Dubai reps from entering airport premises. That was quite unnecessary, and it was, by far, the most stupid thing, among a few, CAAN has been doing lately.
Wonder why it loves to wash its dirty laundry thus. But strangely, we do not get to know what happens thereafter. The same was with separate safety breach cases, due to reduced vertical separation while aircraft were on hold. Nor do we see it genuinely express remorse for not letting RA’s two wide bodies flights for two consecutive days discomforting close to one thousand passengers at either end. A clear case for top honchos at both organizations, NAC/RA and CAAN, to have been pushed out long ago.
Occasional bird's strike is common elsewhere too. As for the bad name, TIA has enough, of its own making, for not having the required airport infrastructural layout that airlines are always compelled to carry more fuel flying in, wasting payload capacity. But that seems to be the least of CAAN’s concerns.
Incidentally, The Aviation Herald (www.avherald.com), keeps track of all minor and major incidents the world over and is taken as a reliable aviation-related news source. Further, people, well versed on the particular topic seem to make their opinion known by commenting on the stories there. As such, a comment claims that the FZ flight had made a MAYDAY call, implying the highest form of distress. If true, it means that the stricken craft needed to land without delay.
Another one describes in more detail what follows a birds strike based on the flyer's experience (Note: it is edited for clarity): “If they are small birds, in the cockpit one might see some wiggling of displayed engine parameters and then everything will be stable after a few compressor stalls. No reason to shut this engine down for a temporary gas path fire. At the next stop, the engine is cleaned out properly and perform a borescope or deep inspection if deemed necessary. And if an engine ground run-up is accomplished, you're good to go.” To a layman like this scribe, this exactly fits the FZ576 case.
CAAN has been consistently arguing about not finding birds carcass on the runway as proof of no bird strike. But one would only find bird’s remains on the runway only if it had impacted the wings or the fuselage, not when a small bird is eaten raw by the engine and ejected as smoke.
CAAN, on the other hand, was aghast that the FZ office claimed so even before the aircraft landed there. It is not just CAAN, even Fly Dubai too has a lot more explaining to do from their side, more so, as the problematic engine is rumored to have been replaced and sent to its maker. While the particular B737-800/A6-FED was on the ground for about 44 hours and is already ferrying passengers, CAAN is still sulking, literally, like a runaway compressor stall.
Donning two different caps of service provider and the regulator does not come easy. The FZ and other incidents cited above show there is utter confusion about CAAN and the role it is seen to be playing. It is time CAAN mends its ways and the organization is split as suggested by ICAO and EASA at the earliest.
Hemant Arjyal can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org