Air India is facing an official probe by aviation regulators after the airline allegedly tried to use a Boeing 777-200 aircraft on a flight from Delhi to North America without enough emergency oxygen onboard for the planned flight path.
The Indian flag carrier operates a variety of Boeing 777s, and its older models are fitted with an additional emergency oxygen cylinder that supplies extra oxygen to the overhead masks in the unlikely event of a depressurization.
The extra oxygen tank is needed for some of Air India’s flights that fly high above mountainous regions that make it impossible to immediately descend to a lower altitude where oxygen isn’t required if a depressurization were to occur.
Late last year, however, Air India started to take delivery of some Boeing 777-200s that once belonged to Delta Air Lines after the carrier decided to retire the fleet during the pandemic.
Unfortunately, these aircraft haven’t been fitted with the additional oxygen tank, so the overhead oxygen masks would only work for up to 20 minutes.
That’s a perfectly acceptable amount of time for an oxygen mask to work in most cases because if a depressurization were to happen, the pilot’s first priority is to get the plane down to around 10,000 feet, which is a safe enough altitude to breathe without requiring pure oxygen.
In the case of Air India’s flights from Delhi to North America, however, the flight path takes planes over the Hindu Kush mountain range, which has peaks between 19,000 and 26,000 feet, so oxygen supplies of up to 30 minutes are required.
Regulators are, however, investigating claims that Air India accidentally tried to deploy one of the ex-Delta jets on a Delhi to North America flight. The Captain apparently refused to operate the flight after realising the safety issue and reported the incident to India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation, which has opened a probe.
In response to the reports of the incident in the Times of India, a spokesperson for the airline commented:
“The matter in question is multi-dimensional and has already been examined by Air India and external experts. We will restrain from offering any comment on this specific case but we wish to reiterate that the safety of our passengers and crew is our foremost priority and there is no compromise on the same”.
Air India acquired five ex-Delta 777s, and they are used to serve US destinations from Mumbai and Bengaluru, where there are no operational constraints due to the oxygen cylinder.
The airline has been on a shopping spree for both new and ‘pre-loved’ planes, which is a quick way to modernise the airline’s ageing fleet, but it does add extra complexity to fleet management and utilisation.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.