Plane nearly ran out of fuel after pilots forgot to bring up landing gear
Two pilots have been suspended from duty after their aircraft, carrying 99 passengers, nearly ran out of fuel because they forgot to retract the landing gear after take-off.
Air India Flight AI676 was en route to Mumbai from Kolkata on July 22 but was forced to divert to Nagpur when the crew became alarmed by the speed at which the aircraft was losing fuel thanks to the additional drag created by the extended wheels.
An unidentified source told the Times of India that the "brand new Airbus A320", one of the most fuel efficient aircraft in existence, had struggled to climb after take-off, prompting the pilots to settle on an altitude of 24,000 feet as opposed to a usual cruising height of 35,000 feet. The source, who made a point of saying that both pilots were women, said it flew like this at 230 knots - as opposed to around 500 knots - for about an hour-and-a-half, while the extended landing gear dragged heavily on the aircraft.
At this point, 90 minutes into a two-and-a-half-hour flight, the crew requested permission to divert to Nagpur as their fuel would have run out before reaching Mumbai.
"When preparing to land, they decided to lower the landing gear. At this point they realized that the wheels had been out all the while from Kolkata," said the source.
A playback of the flight from FlightRadar24.com shows it failing to reach an altitude higher than 24,000 feet but put the aircraft's speed at just over 300 knots.
A spokesperson for Air India told the Times of India the pilots have been "derostered" and the airline is investigating.
The problem is more often experienced in reverse when pilots have difficulty lowering the landing gear during an approach. Such landings are called "belly landings" as aircraft attempt to negotiate a touchdown without wheels. This has been known to occur because crew simply forget to lower the gear. One such incident happened to a light aircraft in 2015 when a pilot, distracted by a moose on the runway in Alaska, forgot to lower the landing gear, meaning his twin-engine Piper PA 31-350 landed on its belly, skidding across the tarmac.
The report from the National Transportation Safety Board read: "While on final approach, an airplane that landed in front of him reported a moose in the vicinity of the runway. An airport maintenance person announced on the common traffic advisory frequency that he was attempting to chase the moose off of the runway. The pilot became distracted trying to avoid wake turbulence from the preceding airplane and monitor the location of the vehicle and moose and failed to extend the landing gear prior to landing."