Poor maintenance of aircraft, safety oversight explain reports of frequent technical snags and mid-air emergency.
NEW DELHI: The Indian aviation sector is witnessing turbulent times with several reports of technical snags and mid-air emergency being declared by aircraft pilots, forcing them to make emergency landing, and raising questions about the quality of maintenance of aircraft and the role of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) that is responsible for ensuring safe skies in India.
Indian aviation safety observers claim that the poor maintenance of aircraft in India and an oversight of the strict procedures laid down for aircraft maintenance and reporting by the civil aviation watchdog, the DGCA, is leading to the increasing number of such incidents in the Indian skies.
“It is the responsibility of the DGCA to ensure that airlines operate in a safe environment, but if the system put in place by the regulator is not able to see through the problems, then it is a major cause of concern. Most of the issues coming to the fore in the recent one month is all due to low maintenance of the aircraft. Airlines are trying to save money by not investing in spare parts and maintenance and several times not complying with the mandatory reporting with the DGCA, in turn, putting people’s lives of people at risk,” Captain Amit Singh, Pilot and founder of NGO, Safety matters, told The Sunday Guardian.
Even aviation insiders that this correspondent spoke to said that the airlines in recent times had become lackadaisical in keeping up with the maintenance of the aircraft in order to get back to their pre-Covid flight levels.“Many airlines had removed some of their senior engineers during the Covid time as there were little operations, but now that airlines have come back to pre-Covid level operations, they are yet to hire back those engineers. Also, airlines in order to save money, have also hired many trainee and intern engineers who are not capable of certifying or identifying minor issues in an aircraft that could lead to a major mishap, if goes unnoticed,” an aviation industry official told The Sunday Guardian.
The DGCA also in its recent written show cause notice to low-cost carrier SpiceJet, after the airlines reported a significant number of incidents that compromised safety, said that the “airlines (SpiceJet) has failed to establish a safe, efficient and reliable air service… poor internal safety oversight and inadequate maintenance actions has resulted in the degradation of safety margins.” The aviation watchdog further added that SpiceJet was operating on a “cash and carry” system, which resulted in the airlines not being able to procure spare parts and pay its vendors for the same. SpiceJet has reported the highest number of incidents involving technical snag, turn back to the originating destination, emergency landing or landing with “degraded safety margins”. In the last few weeks, more than 10 incidents involving SpiceJet has been reported from across various airports in India.
In one case, a SpiceJet flight from Delhi to Dubai had to make an emergency landing in Pakistan’s Karachi earlier this month due to a technical snag it developed while cruising towards Dubai. In another similar incident last week, an IndiGo flight was also diverted to Karachi while it was making its way to Hyderabad from UAE’s Sharjah as it developed a technical snag mid-air.
SpiceJet will reply tomorrow; IndiGo is also expected to reply tomorrow. Even earlier this week, an Air India flight had to be diverted to Mumbai as the aircraft had lost cabin pressure. The DGCA has grounded the aircraft and the crew has been derostered.
Another Air India express’ Dubai-Calicut flight had to be diverted to Muscat, after a burning smell was experienced from the cabin. Apart from these, many incidents of technical snags, both before take-off and also mid-air, have been reported by several airlines in the last one month. According to data, over 20 incidents of technical snags and emergency landing or turn backs have been reported by various Indian carriers in the last one month. Among them, SpiceJet alone reported over 10 such incidents during the last one month. This has been followed by IndiGo airlines that also reported at least five such incidents in the last one month. Other airlines like Air India, Vistara as well as Go Air have also reported similar snags which also led to the grounding of at least two GoAir aircraft by the DGCA recently, pointing out towards poor maintenance of the aircraft.
However, GoAir in a statement released earlier this week said that the fleet of aircraft with the airlines are the youngest and adequate care for the maintenance of all aircraft are being carried out regularly.“The average age of the fleet is hardly 36 months and our technical reliability of the fleet is above 99.6%. GO FIRST accords the highest priority to the safety of passengers and as per standard procedure, all necessary preventive maintenance checks are carried out at periodic intervals. The aircraft inspection and maintenance practices are in line with DGCA and all international and national aviation norms,” Go Air in a statement said.
Following the increase in the number of such incidents, the DGCA has cracked the whip on the erring airlines and have started to conduct spot checks and sources within the DGCA have said that during the spot checks, the DCGA has found that many airlines are not reporting the issue “properly” to the DGCA. Sources also further indicated that some airlines also don’t have adequately trained Repair and Maintenance staff to check for maintenance issues with the aircraft.
According to DGCA rule, every aircraft needs to be certified by an authorised and trained technician and engineer before the flight is given a go -ahead for take-off. Union Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia also called a meeting with all the stakeholders earlier this week to ensure that airlines provide a safe flying environment to its passengers and all safety regulations and pre-flight checks are done according to the internationally established norms.
However, Captain Amit Singh said that the aviation regulator is only acting when the situation has gone out of control. “The regulator was aware, but still did not do anything. The DGCA conducts regular audits and if the regular audits were done thoroughly by the DGCA, why were these issues not caught during their regular audit? The aviation regulator is not going into the root cause of the issues that is concerning the Indian aviation sector, but rather addressing problems when they occur,” Amit Singh said.
In its response to The Sunday Guardian, a SpiceJet spokesperson said: “There has been no incident reported in SpiceJet for close to three weeks now. Most of the earlier incidents were isolated in nature based on the initial investigation and do not indicate a specific maintenance issue within the fleet.”
The SpiceJet spokesperson further added, “We are committed to ensuring a safe operation for our passengers and crew. All our aircraft were audited a month ago by the regulator and found to be safe. Preventive actions are formulated, implemented and audited frequently to ensure no recurrence of a similar nature occurs in the future. SpiceJet is running a safe airline for 17 years.” Queries sent to IndiGo by this newspaper on safe operations of aircraft did not elicit any response till the time of going to the press.