India’s aviation sector yet to come out of air pockets after Covid

Checks & Balances: Geentanjali Minhas discusses numerous snags plaguing the civil aviation business which otherwise has a high growth potential

GN Bureau | September 2, 2022


#Covid-19   #Pandemic   #Law   #Business   #Aviation  


India is the third largest aviation market in the world, after the UK and China; and the country’s aviation sector is expected to grow tremendously over the next few years. Most of the major airports – there are almost 150 airports on the whole – are operating above their functional capacity.  

However, just as the industry takes off after the lifting of the Covid-19 restrictions, an increasing number of technical snags and malfunctions are being reported across leading private airlines raising serious concerns on flight safety.

Besides, an increasing number of passenger complaints are being received by the Ministry of Civil Aviation against rude, condescending and discourteous behaviour of airlines staff and also for ticket refunds.

As many as 479 technical snags were reported across airlines in the one year period between July 1, 2021 and June 30, 2022, according to civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia’s reply to a query in the Lok Sabha on July 28.

The DGCA, meanwhile, has said that the technical snags do not have the potential to cause ‘havoc,’ the Indian skies are perfectly safe and all the protocols laid down by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) are being followed.

But airlines are reported to be sourcing parts from cheap markets, such as Russia, when parts should be sourced from Europe. This puts air safety at risk.   

DGCA, the regulatory authority responsible for air transport services and air safety, is an IAS officers’ lobby when it should have technocrats instead.     

These and other issues came up for an intense discussion in the latest edition of ‘Checks and Balances’, in which Geetanjali Minhas of Governance Now spoke with four experts.Watch the video:



Captain Mohan Ranganathan, retired airline instructor pilot and former member, Aviation Safety Advisory Council, said that the world over, more snags across low-cost airlines are only reported verbally because if snags are listed on logs they have to be rectified. With only verbal reports given by engineers to pilots, airlines are cost-cutting and compromising on air safety. In the case of mishap, it is common for the airline to claim that the snag had not been reported otherwise it would have necessitated action.

He said that when the income drops, the airline immediately cuts costs on maintenance. He explained the minimum equipment list of aircrafts which are categorised as A, B or C: category A snags have to be rectified on the same day, category B in 72 hours and category C have to be fixed in 10 days. He said that if a category C part has to be replaced or changed, 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. Airline financial audits are conducted in a superficial and not made public,” he said, ruing that India has a weak judiciary as 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, Air India, and author of ‘The Descent of Air India’, cited the example of Air India and its downfall at the hands of bureaucrats, but added that it may not be right to deprecate DGCA. He attributed the frequent snags to Covid-19-imposed lockdown that led to the halting of flight operations, grounding of aircrafts as well as pilots and staff.

On the sourcing of cheap components from markets like Russia, he reasoned that unless manufacturers have approved licences, there can be no supplies. In an unfortunate incident of a crash happening the insurance company will deny compensation. “Unless the Russian company has been certified as the authorised manufacturer and supplier an airline will not buy parts,” he said.

On discourteous and rude behaviour of airline staff, Bhargava agreed that airlines need to be sensitive to passenger complaints.

On the issue of air ticket refunds that has been a cause of great deal of heart burn among passengers, advocate and consumer activist Anand Patwardhan, who is also the treasurer, Council for Fair Business Practices, said along with making complaints to DGCA complaints can also be filed with Central Consumer Protection Authority, which has the powers to take up grievances suo moto. He called for a separate redressal body to take up such complaints.

Bhargava, however, added that airlines are not charitable institutions and have to survive in a highly competitive and price sensitive market. He said people need to have a better understanding on the running of airlines.

Here advocate Jose Abraham, president of Pravasi Legal Cell, the NGO that filed a PIL in the Supreme Court for a full refund of air tickets booked during the Covid-19 lockdown, said in the matter, the apex court has given a specific verdict regarding refunds of all tickets irrespective of the lockdown.

While the SC has given its verdict, if the airlines do not comply with the order the aggrieved passenger will still have to approach the consumer forum or the concerned civil court for remedy.

Despite the SC order, refund cases are pending in several consumer forums for over two years now, according to Abraham.  

“The sector is completely unregulated. While on paper, MoCA clearly specifies regulations on ticket refunds, in practice getting refunds from airlines is a herculean task,” as he concurs with Patwardhan for setting up of a tribunal with judicial powers and strengthening of the MoCA’s grievance Air Sewa portal.

 

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