New Delhi: Wadia Group-owned GoAir was forced to cancel around two dozen domestic flights on Monday as the aviation regulator stepped up pressure on the budget airline to address safety risks arising from overworking its crew, two people with direct knowledge of the developments said.
“GoAir was overstretching its staff, which can potentially cause accidents," one of the two people cited above said, requesting anonymity. “What if a crew becomes so sleepy due to overwork that they are unable to perform evacuation in case of emergencies?"
Regulators globally, including India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), have repeatedly flagged the perils of exhausted pilots falling asleep in the cockpit. The issue has become widespread as cash-strapped airlines try to squeeze maximum productivity out of their crew.
GoAir confirmed that several of its flights were disrupted due to “flight duty time limitations of the crew", although it didn’t say how many flights were affected. The carrier also cited inclement weather, low visibility and protests over the Citizenship Amendment Act as factors that hit its operations. None of the other domestic airlines cancelled flights on Monday citing similar reasons.
The latest cancellations come amid heightening safety concerns, primarily due to a series of snags on Pratt and Whitney (P&W)-powered Airbus A320neo planes, which make up the bulk of GoAir’s fleet. IndiGo, the largest domestic airline, earlier faced similar issues. In February, IndiGo cancelled more than 50 flights due to staff shortage.
On 22 December, a GoAir A320neo jet headed to Chandigarh from Mumbai had to abandon its journey mid-air because of engine vibrations, stoking fresh worries about the P&W engines.
DGCA has intensified safety checks after a series of incidents among airlines in India, though these have been classified as preventive steps.
However, Monday’s GoAir flight cancellations are not linked to engine problems, a company spokesperson said.
News agency PTI reported that GoAir has cancelled flights from cities including Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Kolkata and Patna.
Checks carried out by DGCA earlier in December showed that GoAir had been violating its crew work time for several days, the second person said, adding that the airline was about 30 pilots short.
“It is basically bad planning," the person said, adding that crew shortages may or may not be addressed quickly.
“DGCA found violations in GoAir’s software systems (crew management) and asked them to set their house in order," the person added.
GoAir didn’t respond to Mint’s queries about DGCA’s diktat. The carrier has 54 aircraft—38 Airbus A320neo and 16 A320ceo planes.