Frequent violations of safety norms by Air India is what has prompted the Indian Aircraft Technicians’ Association (AITA) to instruct all its service engineers to refrain from giving pilots engine start up clearance for take offs.
As per norms, aircraft maintenance engineers are supposed to give the take off clearance. However, due to shortage of such engineers, service engineers such as Ravi Subramanian, who lost his life on Wednesday after an aircraft engine sucked him in, are handling the job.
The AITA had brought this fact to the notice of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) but the complaints had failed to yield any response till now.
The spectrum of complaints filed by the AITA and other similar agencies include omission of standard operating procedures to non-compliance with the DGCA norms for pushback operations.
On Wednesday night, Subramanian was monitoring the procedure of pushback in the absence of an aircraft maintenance engineer (AME) when the commanding pilot, A G Sharma, revved up the engines without allegedly receiving any ground clearance.
Subramanian was sucked into the second engine leading to an instantaneous death. While Subramanian’s job entitled him to only operate the tow bar and disconnect it before the aircraft is taxied away, he was also doing the job of AME. Along with him was a helper named E T Shinde who had a narrow escape.
”Such a practice has now become common in Air India. The DGCA norms state that two engineers must walk alongside both the wings of an aircraft during pushback while one engineer should be present near the aircraft’s nose to coordinate with the pilot. With staff crunch, this norm is not followed for narrow-body carriers,” a service engineer, who has complained about the same with DGCA, told The Indian Express.
A member from the All India Service Engineers Association (AISEA) said that as opposed to private airlines, Indian Airlines is also short-staffed. “There are very few AMEs as well. They are required if any plane malfunctions before departure. It is not a service engineer’s job,” he said.
Following the circular by AITA, Friday, service engineers have now stopped giving clearances to pilots and decided to stick to DGCA norms until investigations into the death of their colleague Subramanian are completed.
”Frequent absence of chocks to hold the plane’s wheels in its place after pushback is also observed. Once a plane started moving after a pushback because chocks were absent,” a member from AISEA said.
Letters of complaints accessed show that complaints were also made against Air India for not providing horizontal bunkers for its cabin crew during long journey flights, that extended up till 17 hours. ”During any contingency, if crew members have not rested well and are full of fatigue, safety of passengers is at risk. Even for an aircraft with 10 doors, only six crew members were allotted in certain wide-body carriers which leaves four doors unmanned,” another member from All India Cabin Crew Association said.
Air India chairman Ashwani Lohani said, “I cannot comment on these complaints until the investigations are over.”