The directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA) has cracked the whip on Jet Airways for allowing 131 of its pilots to fly with lapsed licences. Sources told FE that the aviation regulator on Tuesday suspended two pilots for a month and in the days to come others are also likely to face similar action. The move follows an unsatisfactory explanation from the pilots at the behest of the carrier that they were flying even when their mandatory six-month pilot proficiency check (PPC) had lapsed because of an ambiguity in the rules governing such checks.
Sources said that the DGCA has not bought the explanation since it was based on the older operating manual notified by the regulator (Operating Manual Revision 5), which allows them to fly till eight months with a PPC whereas the newer manual (OM 6), which is currently in force, clearly states that PPC needs to be renewed every six months.
As reported by FE earlier, Jet’s manager, flight and training operations, had apprised the management in categorical terms of the new rules on PPC in September last year.
The DGCA audit on Jet had come after the August event when its Mumbai-Brussels flight with 280 passengers on board plunged 5,000 feet over Turkey as one of the pilot had dozed off and the co-pilot was busy on an iPad. A subsequent audit by the regulator found that the carrier’s 131 pilots were flying even though their PPC had lapsed.
The DGCA subsequently removed the two pilots in question, the training head and on September 5 issued a show cause notice to three Jet officials, including Senior VP of Flight Operations, Captain Nikhil B Ved.
In fact, when the civil aviation minister P Ashok Gajapathi Raju was asked about the incident last week at the Express Group’s Idea Exchange programme, he had said, “The regulators need to do their job”. If the DGCA suspends the remaining 129 pilots, Jet Airways could face flight disruptions or cancellations as it would then be faced with shortage of pilots.
Internal company communication seen by FE indicate that on September 19, Jet’s Senior VP for Flight Operations, Captain Nikhil B Ved, sent a draft letter to all 131 pilots suggesting that they may “choose to adopt” the company’s stance that the DGCA rules are “ambiguous and not clearly understood”. Most pilots used this line of argument and sent their replies to the DGCA by September 26.
According to an industry executive, “Given the embarrassment from the air safety downgrade by the US Federal Aviation Administration earlier this year, DGCA needs to be seen to be strict with airlines flouting rules. We still haven’t been upgraded to Category 1, and if DGCA’s safety oversight is still seen as weak, it may not happen soon either”.
“Last Friday, the pilots replied to the DGCA as directed by the management. But this is a big concern among them now. They are worried because giving wrong information to the regulator has put their careers at stake,” a second source said.
In response to a detailed e-mail query on the subject, a Jet spokesperson merely said, “Your information is incorrect”. The query on the suspension of the two pilots and the reason for the same, remained unanswered till the time of going to the press.
With a domestic market share of 16.1% in August, Jet Airways is the country’s second-largest full-service carrier. The airline, which reported record losses of over Rs 4,000 crore in FY14, is currently in the midst of a restructuring under which it is looking to turnaround its domestic business by FY17. Jet has announced a single brand policy, under which its low-cost subsidiary JetLite will be converted into a full-service two-class configuration airline by December. However, it is facing challenges in the restructuring as well, with around 70 of the 189 JetLite pilots deciding to quit and head to rivals like Indigo and Vistara. On Wednesday shares of Jet Airways closed up 1.8% at Rs 211.90 at the BSE.
Roudra Bhattacharya | The Financial Express