IndiGo crisis: Is the airline victim of its own success?

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Updated: February 23, 2019 7:14:16 AM

IndiGo, which recently cancelled several flights and said its schedules would be disrupted till March, seems to have expanded at a fast pace but failed to hire pilots at a similar rate, leading to a crew shortage that has resulted in the current problem.

IndiGo crumbling under its own weight! Curious case of mismatch between flights, pilot hiringIndiGo crumbling under its own weight! Curious case of mismatch between flights, pilot hiring

IndiGo, which recently cancelled several flights and said its schedules would be disrupted till March, seems to have expanded at a fast pace but failed to hire pilots at a similar rate, leading to a crew shortage that has resulted in the current problem.

In a recent communication, IndiGo had said that it would operate 30 flights less, out of its 1,300 daily flights, till the end of March.

If one looks at the number of flights IndiGo added during the year as well as the number of pilots, the mismatch is clear.

According to the airline’s annual report for FY18, it had 2,025 pilots (those available to fly) as of March 2018. At that time, the number of its daily flight stood at 1,000 with over 150 aircraft. Going by the ratio that the airlines’ need to maintain — 6.65 captains per aircraft — IndiGo was well within the limit. It had a requirement of roughly 997.5 captains and it had a strength of near about 1,012.5. However, around December 2018, IndiGo’s number of flights per day rose to 1,300 and it added 49 more aircraft to its fleet but its number of pilots increased by only 392 to 2,417. Going by the industry benchmark mix of 50:50 between captains and first officers, IndiGo should have added 651.7 pilots, of which 325.85 should have been captains.

However, it added only 392 pilots and the ratio was also skewed with adequate number of first officers but inadequate number of captains.

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During February, when the spate of cancellations began following a hailstorm in parts of north India, this was the kind of crew shortage the airline was facing.

While acknowledging that some mismatch was there in terms pilots IndiGo hired and the number which have actually joined till date, chief operating officer Wolfgang Prock-Schauer told FE that it is wrong to say that recent flight adjustments was due to it. He said the airline hired 120 expat pilots, of which 20 have already joined and the remaining 100 will join shortly and by April the schedules will be normal. “We have 6.65 captains per aircraft and that is a comfortable number,” he said.

The airline said that it conforms to the DGCA guidelines that are clear that pilots cannot fly for more than 1,000 hours in a year.

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