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IAF brings down accident rate to a new low

Written by: Staff
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New Delhi, Jun 6: A small defect in an otherwise inconsequential part on the MiG-21 caused several accidents of the much-maligned fighter before the defect was noticed and rectified under the Indian Air Force's new flight safety measures, which have seen accidents this year decrease 50 per cent over the rate of the last decade.

''An ultra-fine hole, or the slide valve on the fuel pipe of the aircraft, was gathering dust, thus constricting the fuel supply.

This led to the flame-out condition resulting in an accident,'' IAF's Director General (Inspection&Safety) Air Marshal P S Ahluwalia today said.

He said the fault was noticed and rectified by silver-plating the orifice and providing more holes to ensure an uninterrupted fuel supply.

Asked why the fault, which caused several of the aircraft variant to crash and earn it the notorious tag of 'flying coffin', was not noticed earlier, Air Marshal Ahluwalia noted that an aircraft contained 50,000 components and checking all of them was immensely time-consuming.

''Moreover, at the speed the aircraft crashes into the ground, it does not leave a lot of evidence,'' he pointed out, at a press conference here.

The DG (I&S) said the IAF has brought down its accident rate to a new low of 0.44 (per ten thousand flying hours) for the year 2005-06, a drop of 50 per cent compared to the decade from 1993-94 to 2003-04.

The figure includes a drop of 57 per cent in its fighter fleet including the much-maligned MiG-21, he said.

''In 2005-06, the force's fighters flew a total of 71,000 hours, of which the MiG-21s flew as many as 28,000 to 29,000 hours,'' he said.

The corresponding figures for the year 2004-05 were a total of 71, 232 hours with the MiGs chipping in with 29,000 hours. The accident rate was 0.65.

He said 90 per cent of the accidents were due to human or technical error, with both comprising 42 to 43 and 45 to 46 per cent, respectively. ''The chief causes are spatial disorientation in the first category and power plant or engine malfunctions in the second,'' he said, adding efforts were on further reduce them.

Attributing the sharp arrest in the accident rates to a slew of measures, including identifying root causes of aircraft accidents and focussing remedial measures in the spheres of technology, capability of man and machine, training of personnel and the operating environment, Air Marshal Ahluwalia said the Expert Committee on Aircraft Accidents (EXCOM), constituted by the Defence Minister in December 2004, had laid the groundwork for a comprehensive action plan to reduce aircraft losses to a minimum.

''To maintain the momentum, the Defence Ministry had constituted a task team under my chairmanship for the time-bound implementation of the EXCOM's recommendations,'' he said.

Besides phasing out of platforms based on outdated technology, the DG (I&S) said there has been added emphasis on management of vulnerable technology through institutionalised trend analysis of the extensive flight safety and maintainance databases of the force. ''An important thrust area is the quality assurance and airworthiness certification process at repair and overhauling agencies,'' he said, adding ''nothing goes up into the air unless it has been fully serviced and certified.'' To reduce the incidence of accidents due to human error, the IAF has adopted modern techniques such as 'Operational Risk Management', 'Crew Resource Management' and 'Human Factors Accident Classification System,' Air Marshal Ahluwalia said, adding the thrust is on a focussed and role-oriented aircrew training with emphasis on emergency handling procedures and effective supervision.

''In-house initiatives have been launched with a'Project Study on Human Factor in Aircraft Accidents' and a project on 'Psychological Assessment of Stress Among Pilots,' he said, adding the IAF was engaging psychologists at the command level and even at various bases to serve as ''counsellors'' for 'stress-busting' of the pilots.

Air Marshal Ahluwalia also said the IAF was procuring or arranging for simulators of all kinds to train pilots.

''There are two types of simulators -- a mission simulator, which provides a three-dimensional axis, and a process simulator. The first is extremely expensive and difficult to maintain. We are looking towards outsourcing this, for instance, to the Singapore Air Force who have it and we can use it, paying them a flat rate per hour.'' In response to a question, he said a simulator for Sukhoi-30 was also being procured. ''Negotiations are on with the Russians and we expect it to come in the next six months or so.'' About phasing of old planes, he said the job was already on with the older versions of the MiG21 -- the type 77 and type 96 -- to be phased out by 2009-10 and 2015-16, respectively. However, the type-75'bis', which has been upgraded to the 'Bison' standard would remain in service till 2025. Phasing out of the MiG23s and MiG27s was also underway, he added.

UNI

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