New Delhi: Indian airlines may need to hire 15-20% more pilots than they currently have on their rolls should the government go ahead with new rules regarding their duty hours on which it has currently sought feedback from airlines and which could be implemented as early as June, say government and airline officials.
If implemented, the new rules could hurt airlines because of a shortage of pilots. The government is currently investigating a racket that helped people acquire fake commercial pilot licences. Since January, at least seven such instances have been uncovered.
Meanwhile, many expat pilots are failing India’s stringent new medical norms for pilots that were introduced last year, according to Mohan Ranganathan, a Chennai-based airline safety expert and member of the Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council, a committee appointed by the government after the Mangalore crash.
Indian carriers have a total of about 400 aircraft and 3,000 pilots. This year, they will add some 40 aircraft.
Aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation has framed the rules, known as Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) and which deal with work and duty timings for airline pilots. This followed a year-long exercise that was fast-tracked after an Air India ExpressBoeing 737 crashed in Mangalore on 22 May, killing 158 people, the most in an air crash in the past decade.
A subsequent investigation pointed the finger at pilot error.
“This is a scientific study and this is based on Icao (International Civil Aviation Organization) and Nasa (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) studies, comparative rest analysis of many countries, besides other (inputs),” said civil aviation secretary Nasim Zaidi. “This (rule), for the first time, places the onus on both—the operator and the pilot. No operator will schedule a pilot who is sick and no pilot himself will fly if he has reported himself sick.”
The new study allows pilots more rest, closes technical loopholes that can be exploited by airlines, makes computerized record-keeping of pilot schedules by carriers mandatory and contains guidelines for night flights. The Air India Express flight cited above was a night flight.
The civil aviation ministry has approved the report and the regulator has sought comments from airlines and other stakeholders, Zaidi said. He added that the rules are likely to be implemented by June.
The airlines aren’t happy with the rules.
“It will massively restrict growth and raise fares due to huge pilot shortage,” said the chief executive officer of one airline, who didn’t want to be identified.
“I think we will need at least 15-20% more pilots. We are working towards it even before it comes into effect,” said an executive with another airline, who asked not to be identified because the issue is regulatory.
In 2007, the regulator came up with similar rules, but withdrew them after airlines protested. India’s domestic airline passenger market grew 18% last year, crossing the 52 million mark.
The new rules are different because they factor in “duty time” and not just “flight time”.
For example, a pilot who flies as a passenger to reach a city from which he will operate his flight was thus far not considered to be working during the first flight. Under the new rules, this will also need to be recorded as part of duty hours.
“We have never considered duty hours for fatigue calculation,” said Ranganathan. “The new CAR puts a limit on duty time and that is very important. The number of days that a pilot is available will be affected as the duty time limits combined with the calculation for the circadian (24-hour cycle) low will result in crew requirement going up 15-20%.”