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A grave accident was avoided on Saturday, February 15, 2020, at Pune International Airport, India, when an Air India Airbus A321 suffered a tail strike upon attempting to lift off at speed way lesser than recommended after spotting a jeep and a person ahead on the runway. The aircraft, coded AI852, bound for New Delhi, which was at near full capacity, carrying a total of 180 passengers and crew on board landed safely after about two hours.

VT-PPU, Air India A321 involved in the incident.

Pune Airport is a defence airfield operated by Indian Air Force, and commercial aviation and military activities are carried out in tandem. As the airplane (registered as VT-PPU) was on its takeoff roll (at 0755hrs local time) on Runway 10, the crew observed a jeep and a person on the runway. On seeing the occupants on runway – recognised as Air Force personnel, in an attempt to avoid any kind of conflict, the pilots attempted to rotate at a mere 120knots (222kmph). For a flight as loaded as this one, a safe take off speed should had been about 162knots. The insufficient speed while rotating resulted in a higher angle of attack that caused the tail of the plane to scrape the ground while getting airborne.

Upon landing at Delhi, damage was observed on empennage area of the fuselage and the aircraft has been withdrawn from service for investigation. Air India has been advised to coordinate with Pune air traffic control to find out any damage to the airport runway. Communications have been sent to Indian Air Force for preservation of ATC recordings for investigation by the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation). The Cockpit Voice Recorder and Flight Data Recorder readout of the aircraft would soon be analysed to understand the event thoroughly.

A senior Air India pilot stated after the incident:

‘While the probe is on, the action of the pilots (to lift off as soon as occupants were spotted on the runway) saved a potential disaster that would have occurred had the plane rammed the jeep on the runway’

While this event did not lead to any loss of life, history is a proof of how close it was. In 2000, a Singapore Airlines flight collided with construction equipment on the runway during its takeoff roll, resulting in death of 84 people. As investigation will be carried out, more details about the event are expected soon. We are following this incident closely. Stay tuned!

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