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Business News/ Politics / Policy/  Regulator to put in place strict fitness test for flight attendants

Regulator to put in place strict fitness test for flight attendants

Move a part of larger attempt to improve safety standards; crew in India currently undergo airline-specific tests

A DGCA official says the regulator plans to have the rules for the test in place in the next three months. Photo: Mint (Mint)Premium
A DGCA official says the regulator plans to have the rules for the test in place in the next three months. Photo: Mint

New Delhi: Only the fit shall fly appears to be the new motto of India’s civil aviation regulator, which plans to make it mandatory for flight attendants to clear the stringent ICAO Class 2 medical test, as part of a larger attempt to improve safety standards.

Currently, flight attendants in India have to go through airline-specific medical tests. Those seeking to clear the Class 2 test prescribed by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), an agency of the United Nations that seeks to facilitate safe and orderly growth of air transport, have to undergo electrocardiography, blood, eye, blood pressure and diabetes tests, besides chest X-rays and assessment of body mass index, said a Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) official who didn’t want to be named.

Once the tests are in place, it will be mandatory for all airlines. They will have to maintain records and these will be subject to inspection by the regulator.

DGCA requires that pilots serving on Indian airlines need to clear the far tougher ICAO Class 1 test.

Class 1 tests are conducted by specialized medical centres cleared by DGCA, including the Air Force Central Medical Establishment in Delhi and the Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Bangalore.

Globally, aviation regulators in countries such as Australia and the UK have mandated the ICAO tests for crew while the US hasn’t done so yet.

The test will be conducted by the airlines themselves, said a the DGCA official. This person added that attendants below the age of 40 will be required to take the test every two years and those over 40, annually. Only those who clear the test can fly, he said, adding that those who are temporarily unfit will be grounded temporarily, and those who are unfit, will not be allowed to fly at all.

A second DGCA official, who also declined to be named, confirmed the move.

A senior Air India executive, who didn’t want to be named, welcomed the move as it would help emphasize safety. Recent medical evaluations of crew members had found several of them suffering from medical disorders and this helped them seek treatment, he said.

An analyst claimed that the move, if implemented, would impact Air India’s senior cabin crew the most. On average, Air India’s flight attendants are older than those of other Indian airlines.

The first DGCA official said that the regulator plans to have the rules for the test in place in the next three months.

India’s airlines with a fleet of 385 aircraft currently have about 10,000 cabin crew.

An executive at a foreign airline welcomed DGCA’s plan.

“People think cabin crew is to serve them liquor," said this person who asked not to be identified, adding that the real role of a crew is to help during evacuation and ensure safer flights. “The fitter and more motivated crew is, the better the chances that they will be able to assist you when it really is required."

A fitter crew also sends out the right message about the airline, this person said. “And in general it helps the airline brand and perception tremendously to have a fitter, more healthy, crew," he added.

Still, the move does appear to be directed at Air India’s attendants, who have previously come under criticism for their appearance.

“The exercise appears to be directed at Air India cabin crew," said Mohan Ranganathan, a member of the Indian government-appointed air safety council.

It is important to focus on the real issues, according to Ranganathan. “It is not the size or looks that matter, but efficiency and professionalism. That includes training for safety and emergency procedures. In India, it is just an apology. Take the Jet Airways ‘engine fire’ event in Mumbai. The cabin crew muffed it badly," he said.

In a Mumbai-Chennai flight in 2011, the cabin crew of Jet Airways mistook a flickering red light for a fire in the aircraft’s engine just before take-off. The pilot over-reacted and ordered an emergency evacuation that resulted in injuries to some passengers.

The cabin crew, DGCA said in its finding later, was also to be blamed, besides the captain for not ensuring proper preparation for evacuation and failing to give proper instructions to panic-stricken passengers, leading to chaos inside the aircraft.

Jet Airways did not offer a comment for the story at the time of going to press.

Ranganathan said he feels that the Air India cabin crew labour union will oppose this move.

A spokesman for the Air India’s cabin crew labour union was not available for comment immediately.

And it’s always quite possible that the medical examination process be subverted, Ranganathan he said, and added, “When you see the number of obese pilots who have got away..."

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Published: 06 Aug 2013, 12:02 AM IST
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