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New Delhi: Audits by aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) have found that aircraft spare parts supply of some airlines has been hit as a result of financial stress on their balance sheets, and has scheduled meetings with their managements over the coming fortnight to discuss the issue.

India’s airlines have lost $10.6 billion in the last seven years and sit on combined debt of $15.83 billion. In the year ended 31 March, they lost $1.77 billion on revenue of $10 billion, according to consulting firm Capa.

“Everyone has issues," said a person familiar with the matter, referring to the audit findings. “We are calling the senior management of each airline individually and...seeking an explanation on all the matters that have come out (in the audit)." The person asked not to be identified.

DGCA chief Prabhat Kumar has called the meetings with executives from Air India, Jet Airways (India) Ltd, SpiceJet Ltd, IndiGo and GoAir. The separate meetings will run up to 10 October, this person said.

The audit findings are typically classified as “A" level findings and those below “A" levels are a cause for worry. It was not immediately clear how many “A" level findings the audit has thrown up.

One of the most critical finding the audit has come up with is to do with spare parts, or the lack of them.

“The number of times an aircraft has been put on an MEL shows an increasing trend," said a second person aware of the situation who asked not to be identified. “This indicates shortage of spare parts because of shortage of funds."

MEL stands for minimum equipment list where a manufacturer permits an aircraft to be flown with certain unservicable items.

The aircraft are allowed to take off with a defective part under three categories.

A category “A" defect has to be cleared the same night. An aircraft with a category “B" defect is permitted to operate for three days in case the defect does not affect the safety of passengers. An aircraft with a category “C" defect can fly with the defect for 10 days.

“What airlines do is to misuse the category “C" to the maximum," Mohan Ranganathan, a Chennai-based aviation safety analyst, said. “They will use the aircraft for 10 days and on the 10th day, what they will do is they will take out that defective part and put it into another aircraft and say the defect is cleared. Then the defective part is rolled (over) again for 10 days to another aircraft and this will continue. A good airline won’t do that."

Unless the regulator scans all the databases of spare parts that were changed to clear the aircraft under MEL, it cannot identify the scale of misuse, Ranganathan said.

A SpiceJet spokesperson confirmed the DGCA audit and said “all airlines are being called individually to discuss the audit reports".

It denied there were any increasing issues with spare parts.

“There have been no significant incidents relating to safety at SpiceJet this year... There is no discernible increasing trend in MELs," the spokesperson said. “Of course, an MEL occurs when a spare is not available. But it is physically and humanly impossible for any airline to stock every spare in every station. That is why the concept of MELs exists, and not just in India, but globally."

IndiGo said its MELs have dropped.

“Our MELs per aircraft has actually dropped year on year despite the fleet size increasing," said IndiGo president Aditya Ghosh.

An email sent to Jet Airways and Air India seeking comments remained unanswered.

GoAir denied it had been summoned to meet the DGCA.

India’s airline industry is set to lose $1.3 billion this financial year, according to Capa, marginally better than last year on account of a stronger rupee, cheaper fuel and better business sentiment.

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