Ahead of the crucial air safety audit by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has stepped up its surveillance, reports Roudra Bhattacharya in New Delhi. On October 27th, the regulator took nearly 40 Jet Airways crew members off flying duty for failing a safety drill to test evacuation of passengers in case of an emergency, sources close to the development told FE.
This has led to a shortage of crew members on overseas flights. The development is significant since Jet Airways is one of the two domestic carriers connecting India and the US, the other being flag carrier Air India. In fact, the aircraft the safety check was performed on was the Airbus A330, frequently used for US-India flights by the full-service airline through its hub at Brussels.
“The DGCA drill was done as part of a re-certification procedure for the Air Operator’s Permit. This is being done for all airlines after the FAA pulled up the DGCA for lax implementation of the rules,” a source in the airline said. A second official confirmed the development. “The crew members were grounded pending enquiry as they did not follow the evacuation procedure which requires the first escape slide to be deployed 15 seconds after the command is given,” the official said. He added that the rest of the slides can be taken as a mock exercise.
A Jet Airways spokesperson said, “A DGCA certification drill was conducted on 27th October for the A330 aircraft where certain observations were made by the DGCA and airline has made a note and will accordingly carry out the required changes. Jet Airways would like to clarify that there were no suspensions. The crew will go through the drill again in the coming week.”
The latest instance of staff being grounded comes on the back of a series of compliance lapses by the airline over the past few months. In September, 131 pilots and members of the senior management were issued show cause notices by the aviation regulator for a major training lapse – a DGCA audit had found the pilots were flying without the mandatory Pilot Proficiency Checks – a biannual simulator training. Two of the pilots have since been suspended, and more action is expected against the rest.
Last month another violation came to light. Three pilots, one of whom is a lady, were found to be flying for several months without annual line check certificates in violation of the country’s Civil Aviation Requirements. In the line check, a pilot’s flying is monitored by a trainer sitting in the cockpit through a flight to ensure that all norms are followed, and any violations of this requirement can lead to grounding of the pilots.
Ever since FAA downgraded India’s air safety rating to Category 2 in January citing inadequate safety oversight of the DGCA, the latter has tightened its inspection processes. The regulator has been expanding its team of Flight Operation Inspectors, with a target of 75, by hiring pilots on market-linked salaries. The practice of pilots being sent on deputation by airlines has been done away with because the FAA had highlighted that there was a clear ‘conflict of interest’. With the DGCA addressing all of the FAA concerns and visiting the latter in August this year, an FAA team is now expected to visit this month for a fresh safety audit. The downgrade affected not only business sentiments, but prohibited any domestic airline from expanding flights to the US.
The Jet Airways scrip at the BSE closed 0.30% down to R232.25 on Friday.