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Unfortunate incident, but nothing to worry: Air Deccan MD

M D Riti in Bangalore | September 25, 2003 04:25 IST

There could not have been a more inappropriate inaugural flight for Air Deccan, the latest airline in the private sector, to launch its operations in Andhra Pradesh.

The flight was to take a host of dignitaries, including Union Civil Aviation Minister Rajiv Pratap Rudy, Bharatiya Janata Party president M Venkaiah Naidu, Telugu Desam Party leader Yerran Naidu and K Ramamohan Rao, MP, and mediapersons from Hyderabad to Vijayawada.

All the passengers were on board. The flight was preparing to takeoff when one of the engines began spewing smoke startling the staff and passengers, who were hastily evacuated from the aircraft.

The flight was cancelled. All in the full glare of the media.

Speaking exclusively to rediff.com in Bangalore in the evening, Air Deccan managing director Captain Gopinath played down the incident.

"There was just a small flame in the exhaust of the aircraft's engine, when the aircraft was still on the ground. It is a routine occurrence that could happen with any flight. There was no fire inside the aircraft," he said.

"Normally, fuel vapour accumulates just below the exhaust. This sometimes ignites when the engines are fired. Usually, there is a fire for at least two seconds just below the exhaust when the engine is fired. If this fire lasts longer, say maybe 10 or 12 seconds, it is standard procedure to immediately stop the engines and check the fuel pipes and exhaust for leaks.

"Once it is confirmed that there is no leakage of fuel, the aircraft is cleared for flight operations.

"However, since Wednesday's was a high profile inaugural flight, with several VIPs on board, Air Deccan decided not to risk adverse media publicity and so cancelled the flight.

"The media wrongly reported that our passengers came out through emergency exits. They came out through the regular exits. Also, the incident did not take place when the aircraft was preparing for takeoff. It happened while the aircraft was absolutely stationery on the ground.

"I repeat what happened was caused by a high concentration of fuel outside and below the exhaust, and must not be viewed as anything more," he said.

Capt Gopinath hoped the incident would not affect the business prospects of the airline, which is yet to take off.

He insisted the incident did not occur because the aircraft was old, or was not in the best of condition. "This could have happened any time to the newest of aircraft," he said.

Will this incident prompt Air Deccan to take extra precautions?

"Not at all," Gopinath said. "Safety checks are an all-important ongoing part of our daily routine in our airline. We routinely check for fuel leaks, and this flame was not caused by a leak."

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