The Case of the Hovering Didi

Is Bengal Congesting the first baby step towards Bengal Shining? A look at the conspiracy-ridden airspace on our Eastern Front.

WrittenBy:Sandip Roy
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It’s a bird, a plane, it’s Superdidi! No, wait. Actually, it’s just a plane and many conspiracy theories.

Some of us will remember that not long ago, Bengal’s Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee was returning from Patna on an Indigo flight that was reportedly low on fuel while landing in Kolkata. The flight circled over Kolkata for over half an hour and was surrounded by fire engines and ambulances when it finally landed.

Trinamool Congress promptly smelled a rat and demanded a probe.  “The pilot sought permission for landing from the ATC as the plane was low on fuel, but the ATC kept the flight on hold. This was a conspiracy to eliminate Mamata Banerjee. She is not afraid of dying. But she was concerned about the lives of other passengers,” Trinamool minister Firhad Hakim told the media.

 Civil Aviation Minister Gajapathi Raju rubbished the claims saying the delay was only 13 minutes, not 30, but the Directorate General of Civil Aviation ordered an inquiry anyway, since not just the Indigo flight, but Spicejet and Air India had flights ahead of it that were also affected, since they were also circling due to congestion. If Hakim was right that would have implied a three-airline conspiracy.

Now the case has taken an intriguing turn.

The DGCA has suspended six pilots, two from each airlines, for flying on low fuel. The airlines are protesting saying the flights were not on low fuel. What the pilot had said was he had eight minutes of hovering fuel left before proceeding to an alternative airport like Bhuvaneswar. Kolkata Air Traffic Control had misunderstood it as meaning he just had eight minutes of fuel left. They insist the fuel tanks had enough fuel (a detail you’d would think would have been quite easy to check). But somewhere, some heads had to roll it seems.

But wait, we’ve missed the most astounding detail.

Kolkata has air traffic congestion! That was apparently the cause of all the delay in the first place. Who would have thought that possible looking at the great, shiny, empty, savannah-like expanse of the newish Kolkata airport? This is the city that has steadily fallen off the airline map with fewer airlines touching down in the city. Old timers fondly remember the glory days when British Airways, Japan Airlines, KLM, SAS all came to this city. Now Singapore Airlines is largely served by its low-cost carrier SilkAir. No direct connection exists to Europe anymore.  The idea that Kolkata suddenly faces Mumbai-esque air traffic congestion should be seen as a sign of hope. Is Bengal Congesting the first baby step towards Bengal Shining? The Bengal government has to make the tricky choice about whether it wants congestion or conspiracy.

Unfortunately, six pilots have become collateral damage in the War Against Demonetisation. Four of them were not even involved with Didi’s aircraft.

Even before this furore died down, there was more disturbance in the eastern airspace.

The Case of The Lost Sheep

A Biman Bangladesh flight took off from Dhaka for Sylhet and landed in Kolkata apparently by mistake last Thursday. The Sylhet View newspaper has a blow-by-blow account of this heart-stopping escapade. For those not-so-well-versed with the Bengali script, allow me to offer a translation:

A flight from Dhaka is meant to go to Sylhet. The passengers have also boarded. But what is this! The aircraft has gone to Kolkata instead of Sylhet! … After carefully looking this way and that, passengers realised they have been taken not to Sylhet, but to Kolkata. They demanded an explanation from the pilot. But the pilot was unable to give an acceptable explanation.

Whoa! What’s not clear from the reporting is whether the cabin staff welcomed people to Sylhet before the truth was out. What was the giveaway? The sign on the airport terminal saying Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport? What happened? Was the pilot dyslexic, mistaking left for right? And did Kolkata not realise an unauthorised Bangladeshi airplane was in its airspace?

Where there are two Bengalis there are three conspiracy theories, so here too we have a  juicy conspiracy theory. Sylhet View hints darkly that some think something was being smuggled from Dhaka to Kolkata. But what it is, no one knows.

Now we will be told this was another case of miscommunication. But heck, there’s an awful lot of miscommunication happening on the eastern front these days. Both on air and ground. The Eastern command is saying it’s communicated as per protocol with the State government about its troops being deployed for normal exercises while the State government is screaming it was in the dark and this is tantamount to an emergency. And Mamata camped out at her Nabanna headquarters holding down the fort.

All we know is that there has not been this much excitement at Kolkata airport since a glass panel in the brand new terminal fell on a hapless ground staff. And no airline flying in or out of Kolkata has been so on the defensive since Spicejet offloaded a woman with cerebral palsy and was sued all the way to the Supreme Court for it. But those were more innocent days and we just saw discrimination, negligence and accidents in those incidents, not a thick smog of conspiracy.

Nowadays every conspiracy theory will fly. Whether or not the planes do is a different matter.


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