MUMBAI/NEW DELHI: A Bangkok-bound chartered US plane in which American marines were among the 205 passengers was ordered by authorities to land at
Mumbai airport on Sunday for flying over Indian airspace without getting the mandatory military clearance.
After remaining grounded for a few hours, the Boeing 767 plane belonging to North American Airlines and on a flight from Fujiriah in the UAE to Utapao in Bangkok was allowed by Indian Air Force (IAF) to resume its flight following a probe.
IAF spokesperson Wing Commander T K Singha said the DGCA will decide when the airplane will take off.
But due to the pilot’s Flight Duty Time Limitations (FDTL) the aircraft is not likely to take off before Monday.
“A US aircraft with 205 passengers, including its crew and US troops on board, was made to land in Mumbai while flying over Indian airspace as there was some confusion about its call sign,” a Mumbai airport official said.
Singha told PTI in New Delhi that the transport aircraft had “civilian clearance from Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to fly over Indian airspace.
“However, it was carrying military personnel, for which the aircraft should have obtained Air Operation Routing clearance (AOR), needed for a military aircraft,” he said. Foreign military aircraft have to obtain two sets of clearances before flying over India.
Once the aircraft entered Indian air space, the IAF ordered it through radio communication to land in Mumbai, to which it complied with, Singha said.
A Mumbai International Airport Limited (MIAL) spokesperson told PTI in Mumbai, “The aircraft will not take-off today as the pilot has crossed his flying duty hours.”
The plane landed at Mumbai airport at 0752 hours and was parked at a remote bay and all the passengers remained inside till the inquiry was completed.
The US Embassy was arranging for visa documents of the 205 passengers on-board. “The US Embassy is arranging for visa, immigration and staying facilities for all the passengers,” the MIAL spokesperson said.
A US embassy spokesperson termed the issue as a “routine matter” and said “we are in touch with relevant officials to resolve” it.
This is the fourth incident of a foreign aircraft violating rules relating to obtaining of clearance to fly over Indian airspace or other disputes since June this year.
On June 20, a Ukrainian-made military cargo aircraft AN-124, operated by a Russian private airline Volga-Dnepr and chartered by US defence forces for flying out military equipment from its base in Diego Garcia island to Kandahar in Afghanistan, was caught in a similar situation.
The IAF had ordered it to land in Mumbai as the aircraft did not have AOR clearance. It was detained for 24 hours and was asked to fly out after it obtained necessary clearance.
On August 27 this year, the IAF radar in Punjab had picked up an Air France aircraft (A-343) flying from Paris to Bangkok, as it did not have a proper identity.
The IAF scrambled MIG-29 fighter jets to intercept it and it was asked to identify whether it was a friend or a foe.
In the first week of September, a China-bound cargo plane of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Air Force was detained and its ten crew members including the pilot were questioned after customs officials found arms and ammunition on board the aircraft. The plane had made a scheduled transit landing at the Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose airport, Kolkata.
The crew members had not informed in the routine declaration submitted to authorities that arms and ammunition were in the plane.