A chartered North American Airlines Boeing 767 on its way to Bangkok from Fujairah in the UAE carrying one of the most coveted armed forces in the world, the US Marines was forced to land by the Indian Air Force (IAF) after it was detected to be flying in the Indian airspace without the requisite Air Operation Routing clearance (AOR) necessary to ferry military personnel and ammunition. The plane had Marines among its 205 passengers.
The plane was allowed to head for its destination late on Sunday night after defence-related clearance issues were sorted out, TV reports said. The flight is likely to resume its journey on Monday, airport officials said.M G Jhungare, GM of Mumbai Air Traffic Control, told TOI,“The aircraft, with military personnel on board, was passing over Mumbai. While civilian aircraft take permission from the Director General of Civil Aviation for using Indian airspace, military planes or those carrying ammunition must take permission from the defence ministry. This one didn’t have the permission. We asked the pilot to land in Mumbai on the instructions of defence ministry officials.”
The army personnel were travelling under the US military central command program called R&R (Rest and Recuperation) meant for both civilians and combat personnel attached to the defense department. The marines were in possession of submachine guns and Glock pistols though the US Consulate in Mumbai said that its not unusual for them to carry light weapons even on such trips.
The aircraft was landed at 7:52am local time on Sunday morning at the Mumbai airport and after the immigration and legal procedures the flight was cleared to take off by 2:30pm. Though due to completing maximum flying hours the crew had to be rested and hence the flight is now scheduled to fly out on Monday.
The passengers and the crew have been put up at a local five-star hotel and the Mumbai police have beefed up the security in and around the area. Bomb detection and disposal squad has also been pressed into service. The location has not been revealed due to security reasons.
“Necessary security measures have been taken to ensure the safety of all the passengers,” Deputy Police Commissioner Brijesh Singh said.
The consulate personnel also said that they will be sent on a local sightseeing on Monday before leaving Mumbai.
“We are pleased that we were able to resolve this procedural matter in an expeditious fashion and appreciate the assistance and co-operation of the Indian authorities,” the US consulate said.
This is the fourth airspace violation by a foreign plane in India since June this year. The IAF has made three such interventions and landed planes without requisite clearance. The fourth one was a C-130 plane of the UAE Air Force which was on its way to Hanyang in China from Abu Dhabi and had landed at the Kolkata airport to refuel. The security personnel later detected an undisclosed cache of arms and ammunition and the plane was released after five-days when the UAE authorities pitched in.