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A veteran pilot answers questions on air travel and safety during the monsoon

Monsoon is also one of the most challenging times for air operations and with the help of Hamish Maxwell, Sr Vice President, flight operations at Vistara, Moneycontrol decodes how safe air operations are during the monsoon season

July 22, 2021 / 06:21 PM IST
Representative image | Image- Reuters

Representative image | Image- Reuters


The monsoon rains bring in mixed news from across the country. While they bring much-needed respite from the sweltering heat and joy for farmers, incidents like lightning strikes and floods are common, leading to a loss of lives.

Monsoon is also one of the most challenging times for air operations and with the help of Hamish Maxwell, senior vice president, flight operations, Vistara, we try to decode how safe air travel is during the monsoon season.

The monsoon season in India lasts from early June to October and some parts of the country receive heavy to very heavy rain during this period. Here are answers to some of the questions that concern a traveller during this season:

How do aircraft handle lightning strikes?

The fuselage of most aircraft in service today is constructed primarily of aluminium, which is an excellent conductor of electricity. Electrical current from a lightning strike is thus able to flow around the fuselage without ever penetrating into the cabin.

Newer generation aircraft, such as the B787, have a metal mesh or foil incorporated into the carbon composite fuselage to achieve the same result.

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Are there any warning instruments in the cockpit which guide the pilot?

Lightning is normally associated with thunderstorms, which can be detected by the onboard weather radar system. Pilots use this technology to identify and avoid areas of severe weather where lightning and/or turbulence may exist.

Are any refresher courses held for pilots ahead of the monsoon season?

Pilots go through a refresher ground training course annually, which includes topics such as adverse weather management. Practical training and assessment of adverse weather handling is also accomplished on a regular basis using flight simulators.

Do rains increase the chance of a tyre burst?

Aircraft are fitted with complex antiskid and automatic braking systems to assist pilots, particularly when landing on slippery runways where the chance of hydroplaning is increased. Statistically, the rate of tyre bursts has no direct correlation with seasons.

Does this increase the change of runway excursions?

As mentioned, aircraft are equipped with dedicated systems to help pilots manage landing on slippery runways. Pilots also undergo dedicated training to manage such conditions.

How does the airline or pilot work with the air traffic controller (ATC) and the airport staff to ensure that they get the most accurate information?

ATC provides updated weather and other operationally important information through an automated service available on an open VHF communication channel. This information is also available via datalink on suitably equipped airplanes, which allows pilots to obtain automated updates of the actual surface weather conditions (all Vistara airplanes are equipped with this feature).

Vistara also has a team of dedicated flight dispatchers who continuously monitor our flight operations across the entire network and provide pilots with real time updates of significant developments.

What additional care is taken for bird hits, if any?

Bird activity is seasonal and is also influenced by airport location and surrounding terrain. Most airports proactively control bird activity and have teams that deploy measures such as pyrotechnics to scare birds away from the area.

How are bird-hits handled?

Bird-hits rarely have any significant operational impact on an aircraft but are always reported to the regulator, so that any trend of increased hits at any airport can be monitored. The resultant damage to an aircraft is rare and is generally only cosmetic.

While diversions are common, they are more frequent during the monsoon season. How do you handle passengers at such times?

Vistara has very robust documented processes in place for the handling of diversions. We also have a dedicated team of ground-based operations controllers who monitor every flight across the entire network and provide assistance should a diversion be required. Once it is decided that a flight will divert, a large team comprising operations, engineering, ground handling, customer relations and security experts prepares to handle the aircraft and passengers, with an objective of minimising any inconvenience to passengers.

What are the additional precautions being taken, especially during corona times?

Vistara has developed a detailed plan to manage operations during the virus outbreak. This not only includes complying with all related regulatory requirements but also implementation of many additional internal measures to help ensure the safety of our staff and passengers. These measures are reviewed and updated regularly.

Recognising the crucial role of vaccination in the battle against COVID-19, we took several initiatives and managed to get almost 100 percent of our staff vaccinated with at least the first dose by June 2021. More and more of our employees are getting fully vaccinated every day. Vistara was also the first airline in India to operate flights with fully vaccinated cabin crew and pilots.
Ameya Joshi runs the aviation analysis website Network Thoughts.
first published: Jul 22, 2021 06:21 pm

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