Friday, 20 March 2009
On 14th February, 1990, an Indian Airlines (IA) Airbus A320 crashed on its final approach to Bangalore airport killing 92 out of the 146 people on board. The incident at that time created a furore, because Indian Airlines had inducted this new-generation aircraft into its fleet hardly three months before. Hyped in the business press as the first civilian airliner equipped with a fully computerised flight control mechanism--the so called fly-by-wire system--the aircraft was supposed to offer a safer, electronically-controlled flight. For weeks after the crash, debates raged whether the A320 was indeed a safe aircraft, whether the training provided to the IA pilots by the manufacturer was inadequate, and whether the aircraft needed air-conditioned hangars to protect its sophisticated electronics from malfunctioning in the hot and humid ground conditions of Indian airports.
My friend Mike James jets in from London, amidst all this brouhaha. We are supposed to work together in Bombay for couple of days and then go on to places like Bangalore, Chennai, and Delhi from where Mike will take his return flight to London after a week.
On the eve of our departure to Bangalore, Mike is circumspect. “Which aircraft do you think we’ll be flying in, to Bangalore?” he asks me, a tad too casually.
“Must be one of the new Airbus A320s,” I say unthinkingly and almost immediately regret it, for I can see that Mike is worried, though he says nothing further.
It is one of those early morning departures and predictably enough it is going to be an Airbus A320 that will fly us to Bangalore. At 6.30 am, we are securely strapped in our seats and about to start taxiing for take-off when Mike surreptitiously palms something onto me.
It is a miniature bottle of whisky, the kind that you find on international flights. Obviously, Mike has done his homework and knows no alcohol is served on IA flights.
“No, thanks,” I refuse politely. “A bit too early in the day for me, Mike.”
“Good stress-buster,” says Mike good-naturedly. “I was planning to have just one before take-off; I suppose a second one will do no harm.”
Mike is in great spirits during the entire flight, if you will forgive my unintended play on words, and by the time we are descending into Bangalore, he is chirping like a bird. Suddenly a thought strikes me: “Mike, we have another four or five flights to take before we finish your tour. How are you going to handle those?”
Mike smiles broadly and glances at his feet and that is when I see the white plastic bag pushed into the area beneath the seat in front of him. He allows me a peek. It is full of miniature whisky bottles.
“The stewardess on the BA flight to Bombay was most understanding,” says Mike with a wink. “There must be at least twenty in the bag. Enough to last me for the whole trip.”
I am jolted out of my stupefaction by the heavy thud as the wheels of the aircraft touch down on the Bangalore tarmac.
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