Surge in air travel, staff issues spur epidemic of technical snags

New Delhi: Air traffic in the Indian skies has returned to normalcy with airports buzzing with a large number of footfalls in the last couple of months.

Air traffic data has rightly shown that passengers carried by domestic airlines saw a growth of 66.73 per cent from 343.37 lakh to 572.49 lakh in the January to June period, as compared to the previous year.

However, growth in air traffic has apparently brought a lot of turbulence as planes have witnessed an unusually large number of technical glitches related occurrences and a rising number of such incidents have left the fliers harried.

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Shockingly, technical glitches in flights are not limited to one or two airlines. Most of the Indian carriers, including the largest player IndiGo, SpiceJet, Go First or Air India Express, have been plagued by technical snags over the last one month.

Multiple incidents were reported to have occurred on aircraft operated by Indian carriers over the last few days owing to engine snags, burning smell, pressurisation loss in cabin to a bird entering the airplane cockpit.

A top DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) official said that improper identification of cause of a reported defect and non-availability of required certifying staff to cater to multiple arrivals and departure of flights in short intervals are the main reasons behind such snags.

Explaining about the procedure, the official said that before every flight takes off, a licenced aircraft maintenance engineer (AME) inspects the aircraft and releases it if everything is in order.

There are various categories of AME licences, and the Category A licence is given to technicians who are permitted to maintain the aircraft under certain limits. The Category B licence is more specialised and equip AMEs to deal with intricate components, such as engines, wings, etc.

“Spot checks disclosed that airlines were not adhering to the laid down standards and they were not posting the relevant qualified engineers at all the stations with the Category A licence holders releasing aircraft at some of the smaller airports,” said the official.

The official said that shortage of required staff is one of the major reasons and airlines have been accordingly advised to take proper action and deploy the certified staff to conduct checks before departure.

Aviation safety experts also pointed towards the same. Aviation safety consultant, Captain Mohan Ranganathan, said, “The string of incidents occurred because airlines are fudging maintenance procedures due to lack of finance, shortage of trained manpower, and fatigue issues of staff not taken care of.”

Rangnathan also pointed out that failure of DGCA to enforce safety regulations, findings of their own safety and financial audits and covering up accidents and serious incidents as minor occurrences are some other reasons.

“One cannot let things ride thinking nothing has happened hence we are safe,” he said.

Ranganathan said that all occurrences are mandatorily reported to the DGCA which are then analysed and the severity of the occurrence is determined.

“Based on the severity, these occurrences are classified and investigated and safety recommendations emanating from the investigation reports are acted upon by the concerned stakeholders,” the official said, adding that proper action have been taken in such cases and scores of flights have been grounded after the incidents.

Officials said that the safety audit of all the airlines is regularly undertaken by the DGCA. The audit findings are communicated to the operators for resolution.

The deficiencies brought out by the audits have been addressed by the concerned stakeholders and strict enforcement action has been taken by DGCA for serious violations, particularly where passenger safety was involved.

“In case of any violations/non-compliance to regulations detected during audit/surveillance, enforcement action, including financial penalty, is imposed by the DGCA,” added the official.

Meanwhile, the major airlines asserted that they are complying with all the procedures and there is hardly any shortage of trained staff.

An IndiGo spokesperson said that the aviation industry has undergone a difficult phase over the last 24+ months, now this industry is witnessing a comeback.

At least two IndiGo planes were diverted due to technical glitches during the last few days.

The airline’s spokesperson said: “IndiGo follows the highest standards of aircraft maintenance and adheres to all regulatory norms. We have a fleet of over 280 aircraft with high operational availability, making it one of the safest airlines in the world. We are committed to providing an on-time, affordable, safe, courteous and hassle-free service to all our customers.”

SpiceJet, which witnessed multiple incidents related to technical snags during the end of June and the first week of July, also shared similar views, saying that most of these recent incidents were isolated in nature, which do not indicate a specific maintenance issue within the fleet.

“We are committed to ensuring a safe flight for our passengers and crew. All our aircraft were audited a month ago by the regulator and were found to be safe. Preventive actions are formulated, implemented and audited frequently to ensure no recurrence of a similar nature occurs in the future,” said a SpiceJet spokesperson.

Similarly, Go First airline, which recorded three incidents involving technical glitches in planes in the last few days, said “Go First is adequately staffed with experienced employees at all service departments including pilots, engineers, inflight crew, airport services and all other operational functions.”

“It accords highest priority to the safety of passengers and as per the standard procedures, all necessary preventive maintenance checks are carried out at periodic intervals. The aircraft inspection and maintenance practices are in line with the DGCA and all international and national aviation norms,” added the spokesperson.

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