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DGCA puts Paramount on safety watch

DGCA puts Paramount on safety watch

New Delhi: In the first such move of its kind against an airline, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) will keep a close watch on regional carrier Paramount Airways Pvt. Ltd to check on safety issues after the carrier failed to rectify flaws brought to its notice over the past few months.

India’s aviation regulator said in its 5 March order, which was reviewed by Mint, that a three-member team of senior safety officials will monitor the company on a weekly basis, “identify the risk areas in Paramount Airways", and report to DGCA.

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Paramount defended itself against the DGCA order.

The Coimbatore-based airline has a fleet of five Embraer 170-100LR and 170-200LR jets with 30-40 daily flights. Four of the five aircraft are operational, according to an airline official who asked not to be named as he is not authorized to speak to the media.

This is the third time in around five months that the airline has come under DGCA scrutiny, though the new order is the harshest so far. In October, the regulator issued a show-cause notice on the lack of proper safety infrastructure and procedures.

This was followed in December by the deregistration of three of its five aircraft after lessor GE Commercial Aviation Services complained of non-payment of dues.

The planes were later re-registered after the airline sought a court stay.

The latest order comes as DGCA under director general Nasim Zaidi has sought to ensure stricter compliance with regulations after a Federal Aviation Administration downgrade threat last year was averted by the regulator.

The DGCA order signed by Zaidi lists “issues of serious concern" including the “dispute with lessor with regard to repossession of aircraft, loss of valuable suppliers, frequent changes in key positions and reduction in workforce, very high exceedance rate in flight operations quality assurance (FOQA) programme, non-compliance of mandatory modifications viz. cockpit door surveillance system and other engineering issues."

FOQA is a safety tool that compares data from the digital flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder against safety benchmarks. When any of the readings exceed the permissible limit, a warning is generated.

The system helps identify faults. If a pilot is found to repeat errors, it could point to a habit that needs correction. The pilot is then counselled and corrective measures can be initiated.

The “very high" FOQA readings are “of a serious nature", said Mohan Ranganathan, a Chennai-based air safety expert with at least 20,000 hours of flying experience. “If this is allowed to continue, safety is definitely jeopardized. Some of the pointers could be very high speeds or very high rate of descent on approach and landing."

The airline rejected the contention, saying that the rules vary, depending on the aircraft procedure manual.

“Paramount follows the airline procedure to the T and, therefore, to say the rate of descent is high is incorrect," according to an email from Paramount’s public relations agency. All the airline’s planes have bulletproof doors, it said.

With regard to staffing, Paramount has hired 100 people in the last quarter, the agency said. It also denied that vendors had dropped the carrier.

“While there have been disputes in the past, they have all been solved legally in Paramount’s favour, there is no loss of any suppliers at all," it said.

Another air safety official, who works for a domestic airline, said a high rate of descent or high speed is associated with extraordinary conditions such as the defence airfield at Pune where civilian aircraft may be forced to speed up to maintain minimum separation from fighter jets. The official asked not to be named as he’s not authorized to speak to the media.

Ranganathan said the violation of safety measures should be checked immediately. “If it has taken the DGCA five years to find this out and still permit the aircraft to fly, the whole mindset on safety and security is questionable."

The three-member team that will make the Paramount inspections comprise deputy director general V.K. Arora, flight operations inspector captain N. Shivaramakrishnan and senior air safety officer S. Dorairaj, all from from DCCA Chennai.

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