An Air India aircraft with 194 people on board had a narrow escape after suffering a tail strike while landing at Mumbai airport on Sunday (February 15) afternoon. The Airbus A-321 (VT-PPD) was operating as AI 680 from Mangalore to Mumbai. During touchdown, the plane’s long tail portion scraped the runway at very high speed for some seconds before the nose wheel was lowered down and the aircraft brought to its correct position.
Luckily for the 187 passengers and seven crew members on board, the aircraft came to a halt safely. However, a crew member reportedly suffered bruises due to the impact of what was possibly a hard landing that may have led to the tail strike.
“Both the pilots have been grounded. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is probing this incident. We are cooperating with them,” said an AI spokesman. Given the seriousness of the case, the head of DGCA’s safety wing, joint DG Lalit Gupta, is handling the case from Delhi as both the AI pilots are based in the capital. The safety regulator’s Mumbai unit is also doing a probe since the incident happened there.
Senior Airbus commanders say that the longer A-321 is more prone to tail strikes on takeoff or landing if improper flying technique is followed. AI has three members of the A-320 family of aircraft — the short A-319; medium length A-320 and the long A-321. Same pilots fly these three planes as Airbus does “cross qualification” training for same crew for this family of planes.
According to Airbus technical papers, almost 65% of tail strikes happen on landing. The damage caused to an aircraft suffering tail strike on landing can be much more than a strike suffered during takeoff.
“The structural integrity of an aircraft is jeopardized by a tail strike happening at the high speeds planes are at takeoff or touchdown. Old planes could even split (VT-PPD is a relatively new plane as it was assembled in 2007). Pressurisation of a tail strike-hit aircraft cabin is in serious question,” said a senior commander who flies Airbus.
He said a tailstrike may happen if an aircraft is coming in to land too steeply and then arrests the rate of descent abruptly. It may also occur if the crew tries to make an excessively smooth landing and delays touching down of front wheel to soften the jerk. “On landing, it often occurs on the second touchdown following a bounce caused by a hard landing. Unstabilized approaches and bad weather are the most common cause of this serious issue,” another senior commander said.
The tail strike comes at a very bad time for AI as it is facing a shortage of aircraft. Now this A-321 is unlikely to be back in the sky in a hurry.