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July 17, 2000
Plane had met with an accident before
Neena Haridas in New Delhi
The Patna air-crash may be the first such mishap for Alliance Air, a fledgling airline that came into existence in 1996. But it was not a first for Indian Airlines, which owns Alliance Air. And worse still, it was not a first for the Boeing 737, which crash-landed in a heavily populated area near Patna this morning killing over 60 people.
The aircraft in question, VT-EGD, met with an accident in 1986 while it was flying under the Indian Airlines banner, according to the Aviation Safety Network.
On January 15, 1986, the VT-EGD attempted to land at Tiruchirapalli below weather minima. During a go-around, one its wings hit the runway and was damaged badly. There were no injuries, however, among the six-member crew and 122 passengers.
After a touch-up and some repairs, the aircraft was re-inducted into the IA fleet only to crash in Patna today.
Questions are now being raised about the fleet safety of Alliance Air. The airline comprises 12 Boeing 737s which are over 20 years old. These aircraft were leased to Alliance Air by Indian Airlines after the former was hived off in a bid to optimise utilisation of the IA's Boeing fleet.
Alliance Air began operations in April 1996 with a fleet of twelve Boeing 737s provided to Alliance Air on a wet lease of around Rs 1.07 crore per month. This included major maintenance, spares and ground handling services.
With Alliance Air in place, Indian Airlines increased the per-aircraft utilisation of its Boeing 737 fleet to over 2,800 hours per annum. Alliance also enabled the domestic carrier to smoothen the career progression of its pilots, who were now able to move to the position of a commander more easily.
Each additional commander contributes Rs 7 crore to the revenue kitty of Indian Airlines.
Since the beginning of operations by Alliance Air, 24 pilots have been promoted in Indian Airlines as commanders on A-320s and A-300s aircraft.
The utilisation of A-320s and A-300s is now nearing 2,700 hours per aircraft per annum.
Company sources said the fleet of 12 Boeing 737s has a revenue earning potential of Rs 500 crore.
However, the ageing fleet has its own problems.
Robey Lal, member, operations, Airports Authority of India, said: "When an aircraft is 20 years old there are some upgrading that needs to be done. I am not sure that Alliance Air has done that. An aircraft as old as the one that crashed in Patna today is prone to wear and tear and also consumes more fuel. It for the airline to make sure that the aircraft is in proper condition."
The older versions of Boeing 737s are known to have problems and aviation experts in the US and Europe have been critical of Boeing 737s.
Retd Wg Cdr Praful Bakshi, a former pilot and an expert on civil aviation security, said: "The old version of Boeing 737, which is the one that Alliance Air flies, is not among the safest aircraft."
Alliance Air, on the other hand, is unable to upgrade its current fleet or buy new aircraft because of a financial crunch.
Vinoo Kashyap, former managing director of Alliance Air, said the airline needs new aircraft and "needs them fast." He also warned that Alliance Air would meet the same fate as several other operators that folded up soon after their launch if it did not acquire new aircraft.
Kashyap added that a committee headed by J R D Rao of Indian Airlines is exploring the possibility of buying 100-seater jets for the airline.
"If international prices of aviation turbine fuel rise, Alliance Air would be the worst hit as the airline spends much more on fuel per mile due to its outdated fleet. A new aircraft would mean greater fuel economy," said Kashyap.
See full coverage of the Alliance Air crash
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