Don't they like us in France?

Have you wondered why Indian passengers wind up sleeping on the floor in French airports? Or about those weird clunks and clanks from the plane’s innards? Captain Vijay Bhaskar, pilot with Air India, and former IAF commander, has answers

Published: Jun 5, 2009

What is it with France, always making Indians sleep on the floor when flights are delayed? Why won’t they put us in a hotel?
Twelve European countries use the Schengen Visa. If you change flights at any of their airports without it, no airline (not just Air France) can let you out of the airport. But yes, they could have been given better treatment at Charles de Gaulle, and taken to a lounge.

Since the Concorde stopped operation, no commercial jet flies above the speed of sound. They go as much as 90, 95 percent of Mach 1; surely they could go a bit faster?
The aircraft design has to be pretty sleek to fly faster than that. They carried around 100 passengers on the Concorde, and fuel consumption was high. So the cost of the ticket was also high. Today airlines want to break even, not break the sound barrier.

What are all those worrying sounds we hear when the plane begins its descent?
I don’t know what sounds you are talking about. I am a pilot sitting in front. Seriously, though, when an aircraft descends, it changes configuration and the sound is audibly different. The wheel bays open, the undercarriage descends, flaps move into position and so on. These are perfectly normal and nothing to worry about.

Coming into very busy airports like New York, I have seen eight, nine, and more planes flying behind and in front of us. What are the chances of collision?
Relax. We have a Traffic Collision Avoidance System, a kind of radar forming an envelope around the aircraft, telling you if there is a caution level, warning level, or collision level. And generally planes have a landing rate at least three minutes apart.

Is it true that a pilot can land using just instruments in poor visibility situations? Even if the runway lights are off?
An “instrument landing” is when you land an aircraft solely with your instruments. You need transmitters on the ground for support, telling you, in effect, “hey, you’re going too far to the left.” We use this when the fog or clouds outside are too much. Even then, the pilot must be specially trained, and have 75 metres of visibility — anything less and you can’t land. And you can’t land without runway lights.

What is the most difficult landing in India? And in the world?
Leh is really tricky. The airfield is at an elevation of 10,600 feet. The air is thin, surrounded by hills and at one end of the airway is the Indus river. And you are flying in over hills that are 19,000 feet. A pilot really has to be on the ball — if you have an engine failure, you have to decide where to land. Internationally, Chicago and JFK are hard. It’s not about terrain, but there is so much traffic.


(Interview Coordinated by Elizabeth Flock)


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(This story appears in the 19 June, 2009 issue of Forbes India. You can buy our tablet version from To visit our Archives, click here.)

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