New Delhi: New Delhi-based Ajay Relan prefers to attend a meeting in Mumbai only if it’s post-noon, because more often than not his early morning flight from the Capital lands late. “Either on the ground or before you take off...normally, a Mumbai-Delhi flight which is 1 hour 40 minutes ends up being two-and-a-half hours. If you take an 8 o’clock flight from Delhi, its tough to make it to the 11 o’clock meeting in town (south Mumbai)," said Relan, former managing director and India head of Citi Venture Capital International (CVCI), the private equity business spun off from Citigroup Inc.

Unclear picture: One reason why the statistics might be at odds with passenger experience is the way the government defines ‘on time’. Bharath Sai / Mint

And at the level of individual airlines, there have been some radical improvements between May and June.

India’s civil aviation ministry in May made it mandatory for airlines to report their on-time performance. And one reason why the statistics might be at odds with passenger experience is the way the government defines “on time"—up to 15 minutes delay in take-offs or landings.

Another reason is that not all airlines are clear about the nuances of this definition. For instance, in the case of take-offs, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, or DGCA, follows the international definition. The take-off time is defined as that when the chocks or wedges that keep an aircraft stationary on the tarmac are removed and it starts rolling on the runway, said Naseem Zaidi, director general of civil aviation.

But not all airlines get this. Two executives, one at a low-cost carrier and the other at a full-service airline independently confirmed this but asked not to be identified, given the sensitivity of the matter.

There’s yet another reason for the data looking healthier than most flyers’ perception of reality—the fudging of data.

“In one or two cases we have found difference in what they say and what the Air Traffic Control says," Zaidi said.

DGCA has now created a task force that will be stationed at eight airports across India to check the on-time performance of airlines.

June figures released by the government do not include data for one airline, Paramount Airways, because of “ambiguity" found by DGCA. Mint couldn’t independently ascertain what DGCA meant by the use of this term or, indeed, what the ambiguity in Paramount’s data was.

M. Thiagarajan, managing director of Paramount Airways, said the airline was in the process of preparing an explanation. The data was compared incorrectly, he added, as one of the airline’s aircraft was not in service. The discrepancy, Thiagarajan said, also came about because several flights had been removed from the system for that duration and the data could have been compared with the old flight schedule.

To be sure, DGCA’s confusion over Paramount’s on-time data may have to do with simply not understanding the way it is presented. A senior government official who is familiar with the matter and asked not to be identified said the number of delays reported by the airline was actually lower than that reported by air traffic control.

In May, Paramount reported 89% on-time performance, IndiGo 85.7% and Jet Airways 84.4%. MDLR Airlines with 49.3%, JetLite with 70.5%  and Air India with 72.4% were at the bottom of the list. In June, IndiGo reported on-time performance of 87% and Jet Airways 86.4%, but it was those at the bottom the previous month that showed the most improvement—MDLR reported 67%, JetLite 80.4%, and Air India 75.7%.

Baggage handling data in India is still not tracked or made public, but Zaidi said DGCA would “gradually" move towards doing this too. “Passengers must know everything."