Both the flights were passing through this route due to the closure of Pakistan airspace since February 27. The Mumbai airspace has seen a sharp rise in overflying aircraft since then and the ATC has been putting in a superhuman effort to manage this spurt in traffic.
The scare happened at 1.40 pm Friday when an Air France Boeing 777 was cruising at 32,000 feet en route from Ho Chi Minh City to Paris as AF 253. And an Etihad Airbus 320 was winging its way from Abu Dhabi to Kathmandu as EY 290 at 31,000 feet.
“At 1.40 pm, Mumbai air traffic control (ATC) asked the Etihad flight to climb to 33,000 feet. During climb, this aircraft came almost face-to-face with AF 253 that was coming from the opposite direction. The two aircraft were just three nautical miles away, seconds apart, from each other,” said sources.
Confirming this serious near miss, a senior ATC official said: “This happened and the matter is under investigation. The air traffic controller has been off rostered (taken off duty). Traffic density was very high (in Mumbai flight information region) due to Pakistan airspace closure.”
Pakistan has repeatedly deferred reopening its airspace. The latest date for that to happen is Monday, but no one knows when that will indeed happen.