The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), India’s civilian airline regulator, has taken serious note of the unusually high number of air incidents that have plagued SpiceJet, the country’s budget airline. The airline has had eight incidents of a technical nature in the last 18 days, including a cracked pane in a windshield, pressurisation issues, door warnings, bird hits, a malfunctioning of the fuel indicator, and smoke in the cabin.
The unusually high number of incidents and the issue of the show cause notice had even Jyotiraditya Scindia, the Minister of Civil Aviation, tweeting that passenger safety was paramount.“Even the smallest error hindering safety will be thoroughly investigated and course-corrected,” he tweeted.
On July 5, SpiceJet’s Delhi-Dubai flight had to be diverted to Karachi due to what the DGCA said was a malfunctioning fuel indicator which wrongly indicated an unusual fuel quantity. On the same day, the outer pane on the P2 side of a SpiceJet’s aircraft’s windshield cracked at 23,000 feet while on a Kandla (Gujarat)–Mumbai flight. The aircraft was forced to make a priority landing in Mumbai. In yet another incident on the same day, a SpiceJet cargo flight from Kolkata to Chongqing (China) was forced to return to the airport of takeoff after the pilots discovered that the weather radar was malfunctioning. Aviation experts say these incidents occur because of a host of issues right across the board, from poor maintenance, to staff manning, to technical, training, and financial issues.
Taking note of these air incidents, the DGCA has sought an explanation from the airline. SpiceJet’s Accountable Manager has been asked to reply as to why action should not be taken against the airline “within three weeks”, failing which “the matter will be proceeded ex parte”.
In its show cause notice dated July 5, the DGCA has highlighted several lacunae in the operating philosophy of the airline, pointing out that SpiceJet was functioning and operating flights with “degraded safety margins”and was adopting a “poor internal safety oversight and inadequate maintenance actions”.
The DGCA states in the notice that a review conducted by the regulator on aircraft operated by SpiceJet from April 1 indicated “a number of occasions when the aircraft either turned back to its originating station or continued landing to the destination with degraded safety margins” and “poor internal safety oversight and inadequate maintenance actions” (as most of the incidents were related to either component failure or system-related failure).
The show cause notice also notes that a financial assessment of the airline carried out by the DGCA last September had also revealed that SpiceJet was operating on a “cash and carry” basis, and suppliers/approved vendors were not being paid on a regular basis, leading to shortage of spares and frequent invoking of aircraft operating on the minimum equipment list (MEL). It adds that SpiceJet “has failed to establish safe, efficient and reliable air services under terms of Rule 134 and Schedule XI of the Aircraft Rules,1937”.
SpiceJet has been authorised to operate commercial air operations up to May 16, 2023.
Acknowledging receipt of the DGCA’s notice, a senior official from the airline told Frontline that there had “been no compromises with safety”. He also disclosed that the number of the airline’s aircraft operating on MEL had been drastically reduced”.
SpiceJet said in a statement that it would respond to the notice within the specified time period. The airline said it had been regularly audited by the DGCA and added: “We are committed to ensuring a safe operation for our passengers and crew. We are an IATA-IOSA (IATA Operational Safety Audit) certified airline. SpiceJet successfully completed the meticulous audit programme for recertification in October 2021.... All our aircraft were audited a month ago by the regulator and found to be safe. All flights of SpiceJet are conducted in compliance with the applicable regulations of the DGCA Civil Aviation Regulations on the subject.”