New Delhi: SpiceJet Ltd was on Wednesday issued a notice by the aviation regulator asking why its licence should not be suspended for violating safety rules during special Holi flights.

Mint first reported on Wednesday that Prabhat Kumar, the director general of civil aviation, had summoned SpiceJet officials to explain why the airline had allowed cabin crew onboard its flights to perform a dance routine as a part of its Holi celebrations.

“We have issued a show-cause notice to them (SpiceJet) today asking why their licence should not be suspended," a senior official of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said, declining to be named.

“They conducted eight flights on which there was dance in the aisle area harming passenger safety. The flights were reduced to a mockery, the centre of gravity of the aircraft could have been impacted," the official said. “Mobiles were used to capture the show in violation of our rules. The dance could have provoked passengers into unruly behaviour. The captain came out and was dancing outside the cockpit."

SpiceJet, India’s second largest low-fare airline, has to reply to the notice within a fortnight, after which a decision will be taken on the airline’s licence, the official said.

SpiceJet said it had not received the notice but that it was “looking into the matter".

The airline ran the special flights on 17 March and videos of the dances have gone viral on social media.

DGCA has suspended two SpiceJet pilots, including a captain, pending investigation.

SpiceJet has 57 planes and runs 350 daily flights.

Mohan Ranganathan, a Chennai-based safety expert and a member of the government-appointed Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council, said the only error was that the pilot should have remained inside the cockpit. He did not agree with DGCA’s other charges.

“The only error was that the pilot came out into the cabin area, which goes against the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) security manual recommendations, but DGCA has not implemented it in its CAR (civil aviation requirements) and hence the pilot and the airline cannot be held accountable," Ranganathan said.

The regulator seems “to be gunning for SpiceJet for a violation that really does not infringe on safety," he said. “If they are talking of centre of gravity, someone seems to be giving DG (Directorate General) wrong advice because people keep moving around in the cabin on all flights."

A DGCA circular on manning a plane’s cockpit says that “in case one of the crew members has to leave the cockpit during the non-critical phases of flight, the cabin crew is required to be inside the cockpit and occupy the observer seat. In no case the cabin crew will occupy the seats meant for cockpit crew...(but will remain vigilant) in case of subtle incapacitation of the flight deck crew."

Airlines such as Finnair and AirAsia have conducted dance and birthday celebrations onboard their flights. Air Sahara and Damania Airways in the 1990s also used to hold shows onboard.

“I think if it was brief and light-hearted. It is difficult to say its violation of safety," said G.R. Gopinath, a low-fare aviation pioneer. “If you look at Virgin Blue flights, they do a lot of fun things and even Southwest Airlines, mother of all LCCs (low-cost carriers), does lots of these things to break monotony. If it’s done in limits it is not a problem at all, as long as safety is not endangered."

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