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29 February 2024

Indian airlines' poor safety record

By V M Sathish

The Indian government’s civil aviation regulatory body has said that most of the country’s private airlines operating within and outside India have poor safety track records and new private airlines have been hiding major and minor incidents.

The Director General of Civil Aviation, which is responsible for air safety and airworthiness of aircraft flying into and out of the country, said in a report that private airlines like IndiGo, GoAir, SpiceJet, Air India Express, Jet Airways, Kingfisher and others have violated safety norms several times. The revelations have adversely affected the safety image of these airlines, especially Jet Aiways, Kingfisher and IndiGo.

The airlines were given one week’s time to rectify the safety errors and report back to the DGCA. Indian private airlines operating to the Gulf have now started damage control exercises.

According to the DGCA, safety rules for the year 2012 will be tightened, which may adversely affect the expansion plans of some of the Indian private airlines operating to the Gulf.

The air carriers have come out with statements claiming that their safety record is good and passengers need not worry about recent media reports.

The DGCA safety audit on IndiGo had pointed out that the airline had removed engines prematurely and failed to report snags which amounted to incidents. Jet Airways and InDigo together account for about 40 per cent of Indian aviation market. They were criticised by the DGCA for problems like non-reporting of incidents, shortage of pilots, lack of regular training, absence of qualified safety officials and non-compliance of safety audits.

Jet Airways is accused of not completing a safety audit for the last two years, a charge partly denied by the airline. Jet Airways did not fully comply with the 2011 audit plan and was not having adequate number of trainers. The airline and its subsidiary JetLite were facing a shortage of commanders and a big backlog in imparting training to cabin and cockpit crew. According to reports, the Naresh Goyal-promoted carrier had cancelled as much as one-third of its flights due to poor loads, though the rate of cancellation was only 0.8 per cent in 2011.

Jet Airways, one of the private carriers with ambitious plans, said it has already submitted an action taken report following the financial audit by the DGCA team of auditors. “In light of the media reports, Jet Airways and JetLite would like to clarify that Jet Airways group complies with all international and national aviation norms. Jet Airways accords the highest priority to the safety of its guests, and its entire cockpit and cabin crew alike and the airline takes all the necessary precautions to ensure onboard safety and security at all times.”

Similarly statements claiming higher safety standards were issued by IndiGo and other airlines.

“Both Jet Airways and JetLite are certified by Iata’s International Operational Safety Audit (Iosa). This programme is an internationally recognised and accepted evaluation system designed to assess the operational management and control systems of an airline. Iosa's quality audit principles are designed to conduct audits in a standardised manner,” a Jet Airways statement said.

“With reference to the recently concluded financial audit carried out by the DGCA, both Jet Airways and JetLite have duly submitted 'action taken reports' in line with industry practice. As such, Jet Airways and Jet Lite are in compliance with all regulatory requirements to ensure safe operation,” the statement said.

Kingfisher Airlines, which has been in financial trouble in recent times, has one of the worst safety track records and other private airlines like IndiGo are not far behind, according to leaked portions of the report signed by DGCA’s senior officials.

Safety concerns highlighted in the report include  shortage of pilots at Air India Express, shortage of engines and pilot departures at Kingfisher Airlines, a two-year delay in auditing international operations at Jet Airways and lack of instructors for Boeing 737 aircraft at SpiceJet and incomplete investigations of incidents at IndiGo.

A media report quoting the DGCA report said: "Fast fleet growth plans by inducting new aircraft also need to be reviewed in view of the serious findings recorded in audit reports."

IndiGo officials have refuted the allegations and said the rampant violations are by other airlines. ''IndiGo is a very quality conscious airline and passenger safety is paramount to our company's mission and values,'' IndiGo president Aditya Ghosh said in a statement on Monday.

The DGCA audit had found that 35 incidents of FDTL (flight duty time limit) violations for pilots and cabin crew were not reported. ''These 35 FDTL issues occurred over 74,500 flights operated by IndiGo from January to October 2011. We would like to reiterate that these FDTLs occur due to unavoidable circumstances such as weather, traffic congestion and flight diversions,'' the airline's statement said. IndiGo Airline has reiterated that its ambitious expansion plans will not be affected by the new safety report of the DGCA. IndiGo has decided to induct 12 new planes this year, expanding its fleet to 60.