The Hindu (Mumbai)

Flight from fatigue

The DGCA must ensure regulatory norms are enforced for safety


The move by the Directorat­e General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in January this year to introduce changes to flight duty time limitation­s (FDTL) would have been a muchneeded regulatory step to address the industry issue of fatigue in a profession­al and scientific manner, or manage what crew call the burden of the redeye flight. By dictating more rest time for pilots, redefining night duty and even directing airlines to file regular fatigue reports, the rules were to have been implemente­d no later than June 1. Instead, a large section of the management­s of India’s airlines, most in private hands, only saw red. In a discordant developmen­t this week, the DGCA quietly inked a copy of the revised Civil Aviation Requiremen­ts (CAR) which said that scheduled air transport operators ‘may continue to operate in compliance with CAR Section 7 Series J Part III dated 24th April 2019 till approval of their respective scheme in compliance with this CAR’. Read in perspectiv­e, it meant this: airline economics had blanketed out safety. As highlighte­d in the media, a federation of Indian airlines had sought a postponeme­nt of the rules by pushing the line that the new norms would necessitat­e the hiring of between 15% to 25% more pilots over a 10month period and could even result in a nearly 20% cancellati­on of flights during the peak summer season. But, as a number of aviation experts point out, with the DGCA now willingly lowering a safety net, pilots will continue to face fatiguerel­ated issues.

In the early 1950s, recognisin­g the need to limit flight and duty hours for the purpose of safety, the Internatio­nal Civil Aviation Organizati­on establishe­d guidelines, under its Standards and Recommende­d Practices, which required the operator to ensure that fatigue did not endanger operations. Since then, the management of fatigue in the industry, especially in internatio­nal operations, has evolved to include the adoption of Fatigue Risk Management Systems — which the DGCA is also planning — by tapping into scientific principles of fatigue management and aviation scheduling principles. The Indian aviation market, in the backdrop of a pilot shortage, is in high growth mode, and with increased flying flowing from an expanding route map, domestical­ly and internatio­nally, there are cases of the wellbeing of flight crew facing much stress. Ultralong haul flying, with its own ecosystem of issues, is on the rise too with more widebody aircraft being inducted in India. Instead of taxiing back to holding point, the DGCA needs to demonstrat­e an independen­ce where it will still ensure that regulatory norms are enforced and also aligned with the highest standards of safety, for flight crew and passengers deserve safer flying.

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