Aircraft parked at the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi. A file photograph.
| Photo Credit: MONEY SHARMA/AFP
Sudden spurt in mid-air incidents triggers the move.
Concerned over the spate of mid-air incidents and noncompliance with standard operating procedures and safety guidelines, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has begun a two-month-long, ‘special safety audit’ of all Indian carriers.
According to officials in the DGCA, the special audit will go beyond the routine Flight Operations Quality Assurance (FOQA) audits that the DGCA has conducted on several occasions in the past. It involves inspecting, procuring and analysing data from a wide spectrum of airline operations, including the availability of sufficient and suitably-qualified and experienced manpower and training, facilities, and equipment such as hangars, stores, spares, consumables, and special tools.
Arun Kumar, Director General, DGCA, told Frontline that the audit would be conducted “on all Indian airlines, one after the other”. He refused to divulge the order in which airlines would be chosen for the audit.
The special audit comes less than a week after a spot check by the DGCA indicated that the sudden spurt in the frequency of engineering-related air incidents/occurrences in scheduled airlines was primarily because airline staff were not strictly following the laid-down safety guidelines and standard procedures in several areas.
The last special safety audit of all Indian carriers was conducted by the DGCA in August 2020, two weeks after an Air India Express Vande Bharat Mission flight to repatriate Indian nationals stranded due to the COVID-19 pandemic skidded off the tabletop runway, slid down a 10-metre slope, killing 19 passengers and both pilots.
Senior pilots told Frontline that special audits are indeed special. These audits see what normal audits don’t, and although the officials conducting the audit are the same ones, the intent is more serious.
According to the order from the DGCA, the special safety audit will be headed by an officer not below the rank of Deputy Director of airworthiness and will include two other officers from the Airworthiness Directorate.
In its order mandating the special audit, the DGCA has stated that the audit will also focus on an airline’s aircraft that have been grounded because of a lack of spares, the availability of “current maintenance data for all types of aircraft in the fleet and quality assurance systems for the conducting of internal audits and quality assessments”, and on the increasing trend of “multiple minimum equipment list (MEL) releases” where an aircraft is allowed to fly even with inoperative equipment, subject to the condition that a non-critical component which is either malfunctioning or not working will be repaired or replaced within a certain time frame.