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Airline industry welcomes DGCA’s decision to delay pilot rest rules

 

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has suspended the implementation of new regulations concerning pilot rest and duty periods, just days after rejecting an extension of the June 1 deadline for their enforcement.

In an amendment to the regulations issued on Tuesday, the DGCA stated that airlines can continue operating under the existing rules until their schedules are approved under the new regulations. This revision contrasts with the earlier directive of March 15, which required airlines to obtain approval by April 15.

Concerns raised by airlines prompted the reconsideration, as they feared the new rules would compel them to cancel up to 20% of flights, leading to increased airfares during the peak summer travel season. Already, fares are elevated due to nearly 20% of the Indian airlines’ fleet being grounded due to engine issues and financial constraints.

Key revisions in the new rules include extending the definition of the night period by one hour, from 12 AM-5 AM to 12 AM-6 AM, and restricting the duty period to 10 hours. Additionally, the number of landings per pilot is capped at two.

The DGCA has also reduced the grace period during unforeseen circumstances, such as inclement weather or air traffic delays, from three hours to two.

This regulatory adjustment follows complaints from several pilots, alleging overextension by airlines exploiting the regulator’s lenient regulations to avoid norm violations. Last year, an IndiGo pilot suffered a fatal cardiac arrest at Nagpur airport minutes before a flight operation.

Sources indicate that the decision to suspend the rules came from the Ministry of Civil Aviation, reflecting government concerns about flight cancellations during the election season. Post-election, revised rules are expected after further consultations with airlines.

The Federation of Indian Airlines, representing carriers like IndiGo and Air India, criticised the lack of industry consultation, deeming the rules more stringent than global standards and detrimental to Indian aviation competitiveness. They argue that compliance by the June 1 deadline would necessitate a 25% increase in pilot numbers, which is unfeasible given the time required for recruitment and training.

In response, the regulator cited multiple incidents of pilot fatalities due to strenuous schedules, emphasising the urgent need for corrective measures.

Amit Singh, founder, Safety Matters Foundation focusing on aviation safety, criticised the DGCA’s suspension of the rules despite acknowledging fatigue as a risk, deeming it a grave endangerment to passengers and crew.

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