The AAIB was studying the reasons behind a near miss between aircraft belonging to IndiGo and Emirates in January last year over Nagpur airspace.
Some of the staff guiding planes at the country's air traffic control towers are not qualified to do so, according to a preliminary report by the Aircraft Accidents Investigation Bureau (AAIB) released last month.
The AAIB, which was formed in 2012 to investigate serious air accidents by the Civil Aviation Ministry, found that "handling of aircraft by an untrained/unauthorised radar controller, who was only trained to handle air traffic in the non-radar environment/procedural/planning," was the main reason behind the incident.
The investigation bureau noted that this wasn't the first time its inquiries had uncovered the presence of untrained air traffic controllers (ATCOs) guiding flights. Earlier, 19 unauthorised ATCOs were found in Nagpur, 85 in Delhi and 20 in Varanasi.
The regulation of ATCOs in India has been one of the key concerns raised by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), resulting in the lowering of the country's performance on key safety parameters in 2018.
"Detection of such a large number of untrained radar controllers guiding flights is a serious concern and should be looked into," a government official told the newspaper.
According to the report, the "unauthorised" ATC officer asked IndiGo plane at 33,000 feet to descend to 25,000 feet, bringing it close to the Emirates aircraft that was at 30,000 feet. This was despite the traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) sounding on both vessels.
Another reason for the Nagpur incident was a failure of the radar controller to identify the conflict and take appropriate corrective action, the report said. It also cited the "casual attitude" of the controller in handling the aircraft and leaving the active channel frequently without a proper handover.
The report also revealed inadequate staffing levels. It said controllers were exceeding duty time limits — they are meant to take a 30-minute break after every two hours.
An air traffic controller, however, dismissed the suggestion that untrained ATCOs are handling planes, at least in the capital's airport. "These untrained ATCOs are never allowed to guide flights and they do not do it in Delhi. There seems to be a lapse in the case of the Nagpur incident," the official told the paper.Earlier, ATCOs were being regulated by the Airports Authority of India (AAI). Owing to rising concerns, the government subsequently entrusted the regulation of air traffic controllers to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).Get access to India's fastest growing financial subscriptions service Moneycontrol Pro for as little as Rs 599 for first year. Use the code "GETPRO". Moneycontrol Pro offers you all the information you need for wealth creation including actionable investment ideas, independent research and insights & analysis For more information, check out the Moneycontrol website or mobile app.