Two fully-loaded passenger aircraft on Tuesday came face-to-face barely 40 metres away on the taxiway at the airport in New Delhi but providentially a disaster was averted after commanders of both the planes alerted the air traffic control and switched off their engines.
On a day when a Jet Airways aircraft made an about turn and its belly sunk to the ground in the Dabolim airport in Goa, a departing SpiceJet aircraft found itself in front of from an incoming IndiGo Airbus A320 in the same taxi way allegedly due to a miscommunication from the air traffic controller.
The two aircraft together had 363 passengers on board when the incident took place on Tuesday morning.
Aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation has started its investigation into the incident but it has not taken any "action" against anyone in this regard, sources said.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation has derostered an air traffic controller for the incident.
"The ATC who cleared the landing of IndiGo flight as well as allowed the SpiceJet aircraft, for Hyderabad, to leave the holding area for refuelling has been taken off the duty till the probe is completed," sources said.
Sources also alleged that the delay in arrival of the Follow-Me-Jeep, operated by the Delhi International Airport Limited, was also a contributing factor in the incident.
"Since the visibility was extremely poor at that time, SpiceJet commander requested for a Follow-Me-Jeep while leaving the holding area for refuelling to help it navigate. However, the jeep came after 15-20 minutes of the request. By this time SpiceJet aircraft had already left," they said.
Both SpiceJet and IndiGo confirmed the incident and said that at no point of time the safety of the passenger was in danger.
While the IndiGo plane arriving from Lucknow had over 176 passengers on board, the Hyderabad-bound SpiceJet aircraft was carrying 187 passengers when the incident took place, they said.
According to sources, SpiceJet plane was awaiting ATC clearance for take off for over 90 minutes.
The operations at the Delhi airport were hit at that time because the runway visibility range had dropped to below minima.
The SpiceJet aircraft was in the holding area, awaiting ATC clearance. However, when the clearance did not come for more than 90 minutes, the commander requested the ATC to allow the aircraft to leave the holding area for refuelling as a good amount of fuel had burnt by that time, sources said.
So when it was coming back from the holding area to the taxi way, it found the IndiGo aircraft in the same taxi way," they said.
Sources also said that the two aircraft were at a distance of just 40 meters away from each other, in a face-to-face position.
"SpiceJet flight SG 123 operating Delhi-Hyderabad was following ATC instructions at all times at the Delhi airport. While taxiing, the SpiceJet crew observed another aircraft on the same taxiway in the opposite direction.
"Acting promptly, the SpiceJet crew immediately stopped the aircraft and intimated the ATC," a SpiceJet spokesperson said in a statement.
Safety is of utmost and primary concern at SpiceJet, it said adding, "at no stage the safety of passengers and crew was compromised. All concerned authorities were immediately informed," the statement said.
IndiGo also said it was following all ATC instructions at the time of the incident.
"The IndiGo flight 6E-769 (Lucknow-Delhi), while taxiing in at Delhi airport today morning, observed another aircraft in front of it.
"Following the standard operating procedures, the Captain-in-Command took the decision of switching off the engine and reported the incident to ATC," an IndiGo spokesperson said in the statement.
All 176 passengers along with the crew are safe. IndiGo flight was observing ATC instructions all the time at Delhi airport, the spokesperson added.
IndiGo has voluntarily informed the DGCA, the airline said, adding the matter is being investigated by IndiGo safety department and the regulator.
"As an airline we rely upon ATCs traffic advisory and ensure to comply with their instructions. At IndiGo, safety of the passengers, crew and the aircraft are of top priority and at no time it can be compromised," IndiGo said.