Plane Crashes Like Ghatkopar Won’t Stop Till Debris Falls on Netas

If the situation doesn’t change, expect more crashes like the Ghatkopar one, says former Navy Pilot KP Sanjeev Kumar

5 min read
Plane Crashes Like Ghatkopar Won’t Stop Till Debris Falls on Netas
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A small, 26-year old King Air C90 charter aircraft (VT-UPZ) undertaking a test flight crashed near Ghatkopar, Mumbai on 28 June 2018.

The aircraft crashed while it was on a circling approach to land at Juhu airport. The crash killed all four crew members on-board the aircraft, and one person on the ground. Considering the circumstances of the crash, it is easy to get diverted from the real issues and go chasing after the obvious.

News and social media from all over the country were quick to jump to ‘lack of airworthiness certificate’ and ‘bigger tragedy was averted’ conclusions since the aircraft crashed into open area near an under-construction site while on a test flight. The narrative is ripe for missing the wood for the trees again.


Juhu Airport’s Hands Are Tied

Around Juhu and the crash site is Mumbai’s glitzy skyline, with skyscrapers and rising terrain, towards the east and the northeast. All operations from Juhu are undertaken under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) or ‘Special VFR’ (when visibility is less than 5 km).

The crash site in Mumbai’s Ghatkopar on 28 June, 2018. 
(Photo: AP)
Living under the shadow of big brother Mumbai International Airport in Santacruz, puts severe constraints on operations from Juhu airport – a height restriction of not more than 500/700 feet till 15 miles, and not more than 1500 feet between 15 to 25 miles, being one of them.

Many hills, terrace gardens, and towers in the vicinity rise higher.

It’s all fine and dandy till the weather turns foul. When monsoon arrives, the slender gap between terraces and the cloud ceiling becomes more narrow, till it is closed completely; something I hope doesn’t remain ‘invisible’ in this investigation.


When the crash occurred on 28 June, it was a typical day of the Mumbai monsoon – with low clouds and passing showers.

It is so easy to say the flight shouldn’t have taken place in such weather. But such a ‘normalisation of deviance‘ has become par for the course at Mumbai and Juhu, given the realities of ground situation.

Juhu airfield on a typical monsoon day.
(Photo Courtesy: KP Sanjeev Kumar)

Aviation Authorities Have Much to be Accountable For

The crash site in Mumbai’s Ghatkopar on 28 June 2018. 
(Photo: AP)

It is simple math that the authorities who are responsible for ensuring safe skies have repeatedly chosen to ignore. Instead, all they end up doing is throwing more regulations at the problem and tightening the stranglehold.

When that happens, small operators and general aviation (GA) are the hardest hit.

Aircraft can eat your balance sheet for breakfast when they sit on the ground. The turbines and rotors have to churn if people have to earn their salaries, and go home to happy families.


It is agencies such as the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA), Airports Authority of India (AAI), and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) who must enable this basic human need.

But while Santacruz’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSI) Airport 2 with its world-record-beating statistics of single runway operations – hogs the limelight, small operators, helicopters, and GA aircraft that use Juhu as their home, routinely get the rough end of the stick and weather.

The crash site in Mumbai’s Ghatkopar on 28 June 2018.
(Photo: AP)
World over, aircraft and helicopters switch on their transponders while approaching terminal areas with dense air traffic. For Juhu, they do the exact opposite: turning off their transponders and going invisible as they approach within 15 miles of Mumbai.

The Mumbai radar spews out 90-words-a-minute instructions to commercial flights, while vulnerable Juhu traffic – mandated to contact Mumbai Radar while departing from or arriving in Mumbai – wait for that interminable millisecond to punch in their radio call.


Avoid the Usual Premature Declarations of ‘Technical Failure’ or ‘Lack of Airworthiness Certificate’

Aircraft that fly have to undertake routine maintenance and defect repairs. Some of them may even need test flights. The profile for such flights could involve climbing more than rooftop heights – say, to check engine performance, or assess the helicopter’s vibrations, or auto-rotative characteristics.

If you hem them in with the saturated CSI Airport, rising terrain, and skyscrapers on one side and descending cloud ceiling on the other, where is the room for even a small error of man or machine? This is not rocket science, but the operators’ desire to earn a honest day’s revenue and the regulators’ Nelson eye which have connived to create recipes for such disasters in and around Juhu.

All this happens every single day and we call this ‘tragedy averted’?!

An investigation is on. One hopes that all such associated aspects will be delved into before having a premature declaration of ‘technical failure’, ‘lack of certificate of airworthiness’, or the all-too-common ‘human error’.


This Will Continue Till Debris Rains Down on Ministers’ Heads

The crash site in Mumbai’s Ghatkopar on 28 June 2018. 
(Photo: AP)

I hope many issues I have highlighted (like numerous others before me have too) in an earlier story do not raise their ugly head in this crash either. I had signed off with a grim caution that some rainy day, the holes in Swiss cheese will align.

I do not wish to be proven right. But I fear that till the debris starts raining on ministers’ and regulators’ heads, such perilous encounters will continue.

I wish it wouldn’t. Many of us have to fly to make a living. Please enable that with more proactive measures like improving matters at Juhu (IFR departures/arrivals, use of transponder, ADS-B, removal of height restrictions, designated airspace for test flights etc).

That should be the focus of ministers and lawmakers at this point of time. Simply beating down the crash site with news cameras and officials in tow is damaging both the vital clues that remain buried under the debris, and the faith of operators that anything may change for the better.

(Capt KP Sanjeev Kumar is a former navy test pilot. He blogs at and can be reached at The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them. The article was first published on and has been reposted with permission.)

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Topics:  Aircraft   Flight   Ghatkopar 

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