New Delhi: The tiny seemingly harmless rodent achieved a herculean task after it grounded an Air India flight at leh on Tuesday.
An Air India aircraft was grounded after some rats were spotted in the Airbus A-320. An aircraft needs to be fumigated after a rodent is sighted to ensure it is eliminated and does not pose a threat to safety by cutting electric wires and sending the systems haywire.
With these facilities not available at the high altitude Leh airport, the plane had to be grounded. AI would fly the equipment to Leh by another flight on Wednesday. “The aircraft will be fumigated on Wednesday morning and kept locked for a couple of hours. After that it will hopefully be flown back to Delhi in the little window of operation that Leh offers maximum up to noon,” said an official.
The Leh airport has a short window of flight operations that begins from 22 minutes after sunrise (by when shadows of nearby hills do not linger over the airfield) to just after noon from when winds become so strong that aircraft movement is not possible.
“Forget something as big as fumigation equipment being stationed in Leh, our machine used to load and unload baggage from aircraft has not been functional for almost two years now. Loaders load and unload baggage by hands in Leh. As a result, the turnaround time of an AI aircraft with 90 passengers on board is an hour, while a private airline that operates 180-seater aircraft to Leh is able to take off from there after landing in half an hour. And then, the higher ups talk of improving on time performance!” said an AI source.
Once even a single rat is observed on an aircraft, the plane has to be fumigated. “Rats on board an aircraft can lead to a catastrophe if they start chewing up electric wires of a fly by wire plane. If that happens, pilots will have no control on any system on board leading to a disaster,” a senior commander said.
What usually prevents such a situation is that passengers inadvertently drop a lot of food on the cabin floor, which keeps rats busy.
The most common way for rats to get on board an aircraft is through catering vans. “This is a universal phenomenon. Rats follow the large storage cases in which food trays are kept. The catering vans are like a home for them as food keeps getting dropped. Rats get on the high lifts that take those storage cases to aircraft and then remain there. This happens across the world,” said an official.