Despite being the third-largest aviation market in the world after the UK and China, the Indian Aviation sector is expected to grow tremendously over the next few years. With almost 150 airports in the country, most of the major airports are operating above their functional capacity. 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 about flight safety. Besides the above, 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. On July 28, civil aviation minister, Jyotiraditya Scindia informed the Lok Sabha that 479 technical snags were reported across airlines in the one-year period between July 1, 2021, to June 30, 2022. However DGCA 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 ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) are being followed.
Putting air safety at risk for airlines are reported to be sourcing parts from cheap markets like Russia when parts should be sourced from Europe. DGCA, the regulatory authority responsible for air transport services and air safety is an IAS officer lobby when instead, it should have technocrats. Captain Mohan Ranganathan, retired airline instructor pilot and former member of, the Aviation Safety Advisory Council said, 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 a 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, immediately the airline cuts costs on maintenance. Explaining that Minimum Equipment List of aircraft which are categorised as A, B or C where 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, Ranganathan said that if a Category C part has to be replaced/ changed the airline on the 10th day will remove the functional part from another aircraft 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, of Air India and author of the book “The Descent of Air India” cited the example of Air India and its downfall at the hands of bureaucrats, said 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 and the grounding of aircraft as well as pilots and staff. On 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. Ranganathan however countered that when the income drops immediately the airline will cut costs on maintenance. He pointed out an example and said that if the part falls in Category C, on the 10th day, the airline will remove the functional part from another aircraft and replace it. 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 a great deal of heartburn among passengers, Advocate and consumer activist Anand Patwardhan, who is also the Hon. 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 power to take up grievances suo moto. He called for having 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 of 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 imposed lockdown by the government of India said in the matter, the apex court has given a specific verdict regarding refunds of all tickets irrespective of 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 2 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 the MoCA’s grievance Air Sewa portal. DISCLAIMER: “This is a sponsored feature and provided by Governance Now.” DISCLAIMER: “This is a sponsored feature and provided by Governance Now.”