A Madhya Pradesh pilot, among those who were dubbed “Covid warriors” for putting their lives at risk during the pandemic, has been handed over a bill of Rs 85 crore by the state government for causing damage to an aircraft last year because he crash-landed at the Gwalior airport. Captain Majid Akhtar, along with his co-pilot with the Madhya Pradesh government, was ferrying samples of suspected COVID-19 patients and a shipment of drugs used to treat infected patients when the aircraft hit the arrestor barrier on the runway during landing. The pilot has alleged that he was not informed of the barrier that caused the accident and also demanded an inquiry to find out who failed to follow up on the insurance of the aeroplane if it wasn’t insured before being allowed to operate, as is the norm.
The state government, in its charge sheet to the pilot last week, had claimed that the state plane that cost around Rs 60 crore was reduced to scrap because of the crash. They added another Rs 25 crore as the cost to hire planes from other private operators as a consequence.
Captain Majid Akhtar in his reply to the charge sheet, that has been accessed by NDTV, has said the crash was caused by the arrestor barrier installed at the Gwalior airport about which he was not informed by the Air Traffic Controller (ATC). The pilot, who has flying experience of over 27 years, has also alleged that he was not provided with the contents of the black box which contains all the instructions received from the Gwalior ATC.
The state-owned plane had crash-landed in Gwalior on May 6, 2021. The aircraft, a Beech Craft King Air B 250 GT, was carrying 71 boxes of Remdesivir from Ahmedabad to Gwalior when it landed on the Gwalior runway after hitting the arrestor barrier. Three persons, including pilot Majid Akhtar, co-pilot Shiv Jaiswal and naib tehsildar Dilip Dwivedi, had escaped with minor injuries.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), India’s civil aviation regulator, had suspended Mr Akhtar’s flying licence for a year. The Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau is also investigating the case.
The state government is silent over how the aircraft was allowed to fly without following up on the mandatory insurance protocols. Experts say the government could have recovered the cost of the plane even after it was reduced to scrap had the insurance protocols been followed.
The incident had resulted in major damage to the cockpit front, propeller blades, propeller hub and wheels of the newly-bought plane.
The state government has also held the pilot responsible for failing to keep his licence valid post the crash. Mr Akhtar, in his reply to this charge, has said that licences of several pilots have been suspended in the past only to be revoked later and that he should not be held guilty till the DGCA completes its enquiry.
The Madhya Pradesh government had bought the aircraft, a seven-seater Beechcraft King, for more than Rs 65 crore in 2019.
Officers in the state aviation department were contacted for a response through repeated calls and messages but they did not answer.