Despite being the third largest aviation market in the world after the UK and China, India’s aviation sector is expected to witness tremendous growth over the next few years. With nearly 150 airports in the country, most major airports are operating above their functional capacity.
As the industry takes off after the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, an increasing number of technical problems and malfunctions are being reported across major private airlines, raising serious concerns about flight safety.
In addition to the above, an increasing number of passenger complaints are being received by the Ministry of Civil Aviation against the rude, condescending and discourteous behavior of airline staff, as well as for ticket refunds.
On July 28, Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia informed the Lok Sabha that 479 technical issues had been reported across airlines during the one-year period between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022. .
However, the DGCA said the technical issues did not have the potential to cause “havoc”, that Indian skies are perfectly safe and that all protocols set by the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) are followed.
Putting aviation safety at risk for airlines would be to source parts from cheap markets like Russia when parts should be sourced from Europe.
The DGCA, the regulatory authority responsible for air transport services and air safety, is a lobby of IAS agents when it should rather have technocrats.
Captain Mohan Ranganathan, a retired airline instructor pilot and former member of the Aviation Safety Advisory Board, said that worldwide more problems on low-cost airlines are only reported verbally because if problems are listed in the logs, they must be corrected. With only verbal reports given by engineers to pilots, airlines are cutting costs and compromising flight safety. In the event of an accident, it is common for the airline to claim that the problem was not reported, otherwise it would have required action.
He said when revenue drops, the airline immediately cuts maintenance costs. Explaining that the minimum equipment list for aircraft classified as A, B or C where Category A hitches must be fixed in the same day, Category B in 72 hours and Category C in 10 days, Ranganathan said that if a Category C part needs to be replaced/modified, the airline will remove the functional part from another aircraft on the 10th day and replace it.
“The DGCA is not a regulator, it is only a facilitator. Financial audits of airlines are carried out superficially and not made public,” he said, saying India had a weak judicial system compared to the rest of the world.
While agreeing that IAS officers are not competent to run a regulatory agency, Jitender Bhargava, former executive director of Air India and author of the book “The Descent of Air India” cited the example of Air India and its fall into the hands of bureaucrats. , said it might not be fair to belittle the DGCA. He attributed the frequent problems to the lockdown imposed by Covid-19 which led to the halting of flight operations and the grounding of planes as well as pilots and personnel.
Regarding the supply of cheap components in markets like Russia, he felt that unless manufacturers had approved licenses, there could be no supply. In the event of an unfortunate accident, the insurance company will refuse compensation. “Unless the Russian company has been certified as an approved manufacturer and supplier, an airline will not buy parts,” he said.
Ranganathan, however, countered that when revenues drop immediately, the airline will reduce maintenance costs. He pointed to an example and said that if the part falls into Category C, on the 10th day the airline will remove the functional part from another aircraft and replace it.
Regarding the discourteous and rude behavior of airline staff, Bhargava agreed that airlines should be sensitive to passenger complaints.
On the issue of airfare reimbursement which has caused a lot of heartburn among passengers, lawyer and consumer activist Anand Patwardhan, who is also the Hon. The Treasurer of the Council for Fair Trading Practices said that in addition to filing complaints with the DGCA, complaints can also be lodged with the Central Consumer Protection Authority, which has the power to take up complaints. suo motorcycle claims. He called for the creation of a separate redress body to deal with these complaints.
Bhargava added, however, that airlines are not charitable institutions and must survive in a highly competitive and price-sensitive market. He said people need to have a better understanding of how airlines work.
Here, Barrister Jose Abraham, Chairman of Pravasi Legal Cell, the NGO that filed a PIL with the Supreme Court for a full refund of flight tickets booked during the Indian government’s Covid -19 lockdown a said on this, the Supreme Court issued a specific verdict regarding the refund of all tickets regardless of the lockdown.
Although the SC has issued its verdict, if the airlines fail to comply with the order, the aggrieved passenger will still have to go to the relevant consumer forum or civil court for redress.
Despite the SC order, refund cases have been pending in several consumer forums for over 2 years now, according to Abraham.
“The sector is totally unregulated. While on paper the MoCA clearly specifies regulations on ticket refunds, in practice getting refunds from airlines is a herculean task,” as he agrees with Patwardhan for putting in place a tribunal with judicial powers and the strengthening of the MoCA’s Air Sewa grievance portal.
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