Indian investigators have detailed a low-fuel incident involving a SpiceJet Boeing 737-800 which was forced into a second diversion after an accident closed its initial alternate airport.
The aircraft had been operating a service to New Delhi but congestion, exacerbated by low visibility, resulted in its holding for 26min at 7,000ft.
Visibility deteriorated at New Delhi and the crew opted to divert to Jaipur as the fuel level – some 3,100kg – was threatening to encroach on minimum diversion limits. The minimum diversion fuel for Jaipur was 2,573kg.
India’s Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau says a “large number” of aircraft also chose to divert, and the crew checked the possibility of heading for Lucknow or Ahmedabad instead.
“As per the [captain] there was no alternate but to land at Jaipur,” says the inquiry.
Visibility had also worsened at Jaipur and, as the SpiceJet 737 prepared for its approach to runway 27, an Air India Airbus A320 (VT-ESH) sequenced ahead of it – having also been diverted from Delhi – suffered an accident while attempting a manual landing.
The accident closed the runway and the 737, which had been just 5nm from touchdown, was forced to abort its approach.
It had 1,715kg of fuel on board and the crew opted to return to Delhi, regardless of the visibility situation, declaring an emergency to Delhi air traffic control and requesting a straight-in ILS approach to runway 28.
The inquiry says the crew carried out a dual-channel autoland approach and the flight touched down safely with just 400kg of fuel remaining, and parked with 150kg left.
None of the 182 occupants of the aircraft (VT-SGU) was injured in the 5 January 2014 incident.
Investigators point out that a diversion to Lucknow would have been “more appropriate” given the deteriorating conditions at Jaipur, adding that the choice of Jaipur was based “more on commercial reasons than operational”.
It says the consideration at the time was that recovery of the aircraft from Jaipur would have been “easier” and passengers could have been transported to Delhi by road.
Investigators add that – before its original departure for Delhi – the aircraft had uplifted 500kg of holding fuel, plus another 300kg at the captain’s request. When it diverted to Jaipur it had a “golden lining” of fuel, the inquiry says, which enabled it to carry out the second diversion back to Delhi.