Today, we are celebrating our 68th Independence Day. These years have brought many changes and India walked the path of development. This year, we have seen that the government too has changed. We all are talking about progress, growth and betterment of the society but there are few issues still unaddressed and one of them is condition of the Indian aviation industries.
Today, aviation industry, whether in a private domain or public domain are in news for all the wrong reasons. Financial difficulties or simmering disputes with staff are a recurrent issue with the airlines. In a bid to raise more money, the government is also looking at selling off some of the airlines’ assets, such as property, and letting go of parking spots at airports. Now, the company is in severe debt and owes billions of rupees to fuel suppliers. Meanwhile, about 200 pilots collectively called in sick for work – resulting in a number of international cancellations from Mumbai and Delhi. The airline is severely in debt and the government recently approved a debt -restructuring plan worth nearly $6bn (£3.8bn). Air India is suffering with its old management, staff flights and attitude. They behave like typical government employees. Passengers prefer private planes as the private services are much more attractive than the government airlines. While some of the problems that the airline faces – such as high fuel costs and tough competition – are common to other companies in the sector, Air India also has a unique problem that is now being seen as the root of its downfall. That is the unhappy merger of two entities – Indian Airlines and Air India back in 2007. Over the years, as private competition built up, the airline has steadily lost both its passenger and cargo traffic. Air India and its staff have its own problems, but the minor casualties too are quite frequent. Flights getting delayed over ‘minor’ problems, food served in flights are of low grade, no hygiene or cleanliness. Air India flights are just like luxury buses with old obese airhostesses.
Recently, a Jet Airways flight from Mumbai to Brussels, carrying around 280 passengers, plunged 5,000 feet while flying over Turkish airspace as the commander was asleep and the co- pilot was busy with his iPad which contained flight information. Terming it a “serious incident”, aviation regulator DGCA has suspended the two pilots and initiated a probe into the incident. It has also set up a three-member team to review the airline’s flight training programmes and facilities following the incident last Friday. DGCA has directed the airline to come forward with all related reports, as well as the records of the Digital Flight Data Recorder (DFDR) within this week. The incident occurred when the Boeing 777-300, operating flight 9W-228 from Mumbai to Brussels and onwards to Newark, plunged from 34,000 feet to 29,000 feet while traversing on the busy air route to Europe. As the aircraft descended, the air traffic control at Ankara sent an emergency message to the aircraft asking the pilots why they had deviated from the assigned flight path and directed them to climb up to the designated height immediately.
The Jet Airways Pilots’ behaviour was utterly shocking. When an aircraft is in flight, in the absence of the Commander’s active participation (however temporary it may be), the Co-pilot is not expected to take his/her eyes off the cockpit instruments and intervene when necessary even if the flight is under ‘auto-pilot’. This is the accepted cockpit co-pilot protocol everywhere. Under such circumstances mentioned one fails to understand the urgency of the co-pilot in consulting her iPhone based flight manual. Very strange! The flight apparently was in a busy air corridor and all passengers and the plane were lucky to escape any incident. If the Co-pilot’s behaviour has anything to do with FDTL parameters then DGCA should take Jet Airways to task. It should dig out the truth and award an exemplary punishment to the errant pilot that will serve as an eye-opener to all such pilots. Immediately after the Ankara ATC message, the co-pilot woke up the commander who restored the height of the plane. The pilots were extremely skilled that they were able to take immediate action. The investigation should be more concerned about the quality of the aircraft and how it dipped when set to a certain altitude in autopilot.
Earlier this week, an AI Dreamliner had to be grounded in Hong Kong after the aircraft (VT-ANK) sprang an oil leak. The aircraft was operating on Delhi-HK-Seoul-HK-Delhi route and is still stuck there. Last Saturday, Kolkata-bound passengers had to spend hours at Delhi’s IGI Airport inside yet another B-787 that had trouble with its braking assembly. After several hours of repairs yielded no result, this aircraft was grounded and harried flyers were sent to Kolkata in another aircraft.
Air India suffered a double whammy once again when two of its Dreamliners reported serious faults just before takeoff for Birmingham and Sydney and had to be grounded. Last month in July, the two Boeing 787s, which were to take off for their destinations just 10 minutes apart, had to be replaced with new planes which flew the passengers to their respective destinations. Before that, two of the airline’s Dreamliners, one set to launch its Moscow operations and the other to Singapore, had suffered technical problems almost simultaneously. The Dreamliner, operating flight AI- 302 to Sydney with 246 people on board, was grounded after a suspected snag in the engine. Another aircraft was arranged for the stranded passengers and the flight, slated at 1325 hours, left three hours later. Another Boeing 787, operating AI-113 to Birmingham with 126 passengers on board, experienced trouble when it was taxiing for take-off as the crew found that one of the doors had not shut properly.
Every day, there is one or other news about errant flights and minor casualties. If this continues, we may have risk in flying in the air. The new government should address this issue on priority basis. Meanwhile, you all take care during journey. Stay safe, celebrate Independence Day.