The Delhi High Court today said the aviation regulator, DGCA, had the power to grant the airline companies an exemption from the stipulated flight duty time limitations (FDTLs) of pilots, but “not as a matter of routine”.
A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar gave the ruling on pleas filed by Air India and the Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA), seeking modification of the high court’s April 18 direction to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) not to permit variations in FDTLs.
The FIA represents private carriers Jet Airways, IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir. The court directed the DGCA to indicate its stand on the applications.
The regulator was also asked to place on record the applications of airlines seeking exemptions or variations in FDTLs from December 1 last year till date and the orders passed by the DGCA in each case.
“Under Rule 133A(4) of the Aircraft Rules, the DGCA stands empowered to grant exemptions,” the court said, adding, “Prima facie, we have no doubt that neither any exemption to prescriptions under the Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) nor any variation thereof can be given as a matter of routine.”
The bench listed the matter for further hearing on August 2. Senior advocate P Chidambaram, appearing for the FIA, told the court that exemptions from the stipulated FDTLs were only granted in exceptional circumstances and if none were granted, it would lead to “flights and passengers being stranded all over the place”.
“It will create utter chaos,” he said and asked the court to clarify its April 18 order by saying that the DGCA will also take into account Rule 133A(4), when considering an airline’s application for exemptions.
The court had, in its April 18 order, said the DGCA would be bound by the amended Rule 42A of the Aircraft Rules, which did not give it the power to permit any contravention of the stipulated FDTLs.
Chidambaram said the court had passed the order as it was not informed about Rule 133A(4), which gave the DGCA the power to grant exemptions.
State-run Air India, represented by advocate Lalit Bhasin, also took a similar line of argument.
The April 18 order was passed by the bench while disposing of a PIL filed by a Kerala-based lawyer, Yashwanth Shenoy, raising the issue of fatigue of pilots and the air crew and how it can be dangerous to the safety of a flight and its passengers.
During the arguments, Shenoy said exemptions were different from variations and under the garb of the former, the airlines would try to get the flight duty schedule changed.
The FIA and Air India, in their respective applications, have claimed that variations in FDTLs are sometimes necessary, as in the latest instance of diversion of around 70 flights from Delhi to other airports due to a dust-storm on May 13.
They have also said that pursuant to the court’s order, the DGCA had issued a letter on May 2, withdrawing all the variations it had approved earlier, and that it had also directed the airlines to file a revised FDTL scheme in accordance with the CAR of 2011.
Referring to the flight deviations due to the storm, the airlines said there were delays due to diversions and the number of landings and take-offs had increased as stand-by pilots were not usually available at the airports where the planes were diverted.