SpiceJet Dash 8 Turboprop Departs Rajkot Without ATC Clearance

A SpiceJet Bombardier DHC-8-402Q Dash 8 took off from Rajkot en route to New Delhi on Thursday, December 30, 2021, without permission from Air Trafic control. The nearly ten-year-old aircraft registration VT-SUQ was performing SpiceJet flight number SG-3703 from Rajkot Airport (RAJ) to Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) in New Delhi when the incident occurred.

The pilot and co-pilot have been suspended. Photo: Getty Images.

As the plane began its climb out of Rajkot, Air Traffic Control radioed the plane to tell the pilots that they had taken off without receiving permission to do so. The pilots acknowledged the mistake and continued to climb to 25,000 feet for the two-hour five-minute flight to the Indian capital. The aircraft landed in New Delhi at 11:26 IST without further incident.

The DGCA has opened an investigation

According to the English-language daily newspaper The Times of India, the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA) has opened an investigation calling the incident a “serious lapse.”
When the DGCA was asked about what had occurred, a spokesperson for the aviation authority said:

“A SpiceJet Q400 (VT-SUQ) operating Rajkot-Delhi as SJ-3703 on December 30, 2021, took off from Rajkot without ATC clearance. Pending investigation, the pilots have been off-rostered (taken off flying duty).”

SpiceJet Dash 8 Turboprop Departs Rajkot Without ATC Clearance
The flight between Rajkot and New Delhi takes just over two hours. Image: RadarBox.com

When a senior official at the DGCA was asked about the consequences, he said a “strict action” would be taken against those found responsible for the lapse based on the probe’s outcome. When SpiceJet was asked for an explanation, they said that pilots had been taken off duty pending an inquiry. When the Times queried a senior SpiceJet pilot to explain what could have led to the mistake, he said:

“A serious thing has happened, a plane taking off without ATC clearance. The probe will ascertain how this happened and who is at fault. Was it a communication gap, error, or something else needs to be found as such a thing cannot be allowed to be repeated.”

ATC must ensure that runways are clear

One of the Air Traffic Controls’ jobs is to make sure that runways are clear of all aircraft, vehicles, people, and animals before allowing a plane to land or takeoff. Before an airplane leaves the gate, the ATC has to permit the pilots to initiate the push back. Permission is then needed again before the pilots can start the plane’s engines. The next step is permission to line up ready for takeoff and then finally clearance to takeoff. The same senior pilot questioned earlier admitted that there is often confusion between permission to line up and permission to takeoff.

Several runway incursions have occurred in recent years due to the confusion between permitting the aircraft to line up and the green light to take off. A couple of years ago, a pilot for an Indian carrier had his license suspended after entering an active runway at Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport (BOM) in Mumbai. The ATC had given the aircraft permission to hold, and even though the co-pilot read back the instruction correctly, the plane’s captain breached the runway.

Being on the runway without permission can lead to fatalities

To understand how serious a matter taking off and not adhering to ATC rules is, all you have to do is look back to the Tenerife disaster in 1977 in which 563 passengers and crew lost their lives.

SpiceJet Dash 8 Turboprop Departs Rajkot Without ATC Clearance
The Tenerife disaster is the worst accident in aviation history. Photo: Getty Images

It is also not always the pilot’s fault either, with the ATC at Cox Bazar Airport (CXB) allowing a Binman Bangladesh Airlines Boeing 737 to take off while cows were on the runway. As the plane was just getting airborne, it struck two cows, killing them instantly. Fortunately for the passengers and crew, the aircraft completed its flight to Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (DAC) without further incident.

What do you think about the SpiceJet turboprop taking off without ATC permission? Please tell us your thoughts in the comments.

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