New Delhi: India’s aviation regulator has asked Jet Airways (India) Ltd’s low-cost subsidiary JetLite, Chennai-based Paramount Airways Pvt. Ltd and Gurgaon-based MDLR Airlines Pvt. Ltd to explain the lack of proper safety infrastructure and procedures followed by them during operations.
The show-cause notices by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) were issued after several surveillance checks by the regulator since the start of the year as part of an audit by the US aviation regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
FAA completed its audit last month and maintained the highest safety level for India, abstaining from a downgrade that could have led to a complete freeze on the expansion of services to the US by Indian carriers.
Regulation radar: An MDLR aircraft. The airline has been served a show-cause notice for security failures.
The three carriers have been asked to explain various safety-related lapses, said a government official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter. Mint has also reviewed documents that list the infractions.
Paramount Airways confirmed the DGCA notice and said it was moving to address the anomalies.
“Whatever DGCA has identified, majority of them we have complied with and we have also given them a schedule of specified completion dates,” a Paramount Airways spokesman said.
JetLite denied receiving any notice, while MDLR said it had sought time to make rectifications.
The show-cause notices don’t necessarily make the airlines unsafe to fly, but show that mandatory safety procedures, a key part of their functioning, were not followed as per stated guidelines when the checks were conducted.
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“We have been very very lucky,” said Mohan Ranganathan, a Chennai-based air safety consultant.
The audits show airlines were taking advantage of DGCA’s manpower shortage to bypass rules, he said.
“These things will have serious ramifications from an insurance and legal point of view,” Ranganathan said. “For example, if there is an incident or an accident and there is an American citizen on board who’s life is involved, that airline is liable for serious lawsuits in US. And even for the others...the insurance policies say very clearly if any rule and regulation of the respective country is not followed, the policy is invalid.”
The regulator has asked JetLite to explain deficiencies in air safety infrastructure. Paramount Airways has been found wanting in around 69 areas of aircraft maintenance and lacking a proper permanent investigation board for airline incidents and accidents.
JetLite said no “show-cause notice” had been issued to it, and rejected the contention that there were deficiencies in the air safety infrastructure.
“DGCA has officially accepted the JetLite Flight Safety infrastructure. All airlines are subject to audits and inspections in relation to surveillance and oversight by DGCA in the interest of safety,” the carrier said in an email. “Minor observations pertaining to JetLite during audits have been cleared by DGCA.”
Two separate checks on MDLR, which operates a single aircraft currently, found at least 10 deficiencies. DGCA found there were “no authorized trim staff, no despatch at the airport, no fluorescent jackets for walk around, no Jeppesen updates with pilots, no single-page checklist on board, no manuals available, no emergency procedures/response plan, inadequate knowledge of staff in ops (operations)”.
“Yes we have been given a show-cause notice, several lacunae have been found. There was a lot of documentation (safety manuals and records), which were washed out when we moved terminals” in Delhi, said Koustav M. Dhar, chief operating officer of MDLR. “We have requested 45 days’ time to bring up our standards. We have asked DGCA to do a re-inspection after 45 days.”
Jeppesen charts are required for aeronautical charting, navigation and flight planning. They are, for instance, used to identify the path and altitude to be taken when there’s bad weather.
Ranganathan said the show-cause notices disclosed “blatant violations”, which can’t be “given a waiver” by DGCA.
“If they lack trained manpower, the safety department is non-functional and DGCA has to act,” he said.
“The extreme step is to ground the airline or, temporarily, permit them to outsource the safety operations with a definite time scale to implement the DGCA requirement,” Ranganathan said.
DGCA found during its check of Paramount that only part of the Jeppesen updates were available on the flight. They were instead available only at the flight despatch department of the airline.
“What will they (pilots) do if there is a hijack, if there is a flight diversion due to bad weather?” Ranganathan asked. “You have to pay for every plate (of Jeppesen charts), so they are perhaps cutting costs.”
Paramount didn’t have a permanent investigation board, which is meant to inquire into accidents and incidents, report on their causes and identify methods to prevent recurrence.
In the case of JetLite, one of the checks disclosed that a pilot was flying after his instrument rating expired. The instrument rating check is key for flights above 15,000 feet and is granted on a yearly basis.
Pilots cannot fly if their rating has expired. On another flight, a cabin crew member’s dangerous goods training had expired.
Other carriers, including Air India, Kingfisher Airlines, GoAir, IndiGo, SpiceJet and Jet Airways, have also been asked to rectify procedural issues found during the DGCA checks.
Ranganathan said DGCA should make the implementation of regulations stricter and penalize carriers. “The threat of FAA downgrade does not exist now, but that is no reason to relax,” he said. “It is up to new director general Nasim Zaidi to take proactive action.”