Air India grounds two pilots after fight in cockpit raises concerns

NEW DELHI - State-carrier Air India has de-rostered two pilots for allegedly coming to blows inside the cockpit of their Airbus A-320 before take-off on Sunday.

The flight AI 611 was enroute to Delhi from Jaipur airport in northern Rajasthan state when the incident occurred, Indian media reported.

The fight started when the co-pilot allegedly assaulted the captain for taking umbrage to a trim sheet that displayed the 'take-off figures' for the flight.

The sheet has details of "number of passengers on board, flight's take off weight and fuel uptake" which is displayed in front of the pilot for the entire duration of the flight, a source told the Times of India newspaper.

The co-pilot beat up the commander, sources said, but the commander decided to go ahead with the flight "in the larger interest of the airline".

Air India spokesman brushed aside the incident as "an argument between the two and nothing more".

The issue came to light when the commander made a log-entry on landing in Delhi.

Times of India also said the co-pilot had been involved in similar face-offs with flight captains on a couple of occasions earlier.

Air India has had a long spell of losses before recording a net profit of 14.6 crore rupees (S$ 3.1 million) in December last year. Its pilot association had written to the Director General of Civil Aviation recently complaining of being "forced to work overtime" without adequate remuneration, NDTV reported.

"Putting these highly-stressed and financially over-burdened co-pilots in the same cockpit... is a perfect recipe for disaster," NDTV quoted the association as saying.

The Times of India said the DGCA has started discussions with the Directorate of Medical Services for regular check-ups of pilots to evaluate their psychological health.

The incident comes close on the heels of the Germanwings crash in the French Alps last month which killed 150 people aboard.

Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot suspected of crashing the plane, was found to have a psychosomatic condition and previous mental illness. He was being treated by neurologists and psychiatrists and had told the flight training school run by Germanwings owner Deutsche Lufthansa AG about an episode of severe depression.