As a thumb rule, there should be zero tolerance to deviations in air safety

Airbus A320Neo jets fitted with below quality Pratt & Whitney engines manufactured mid-2017 onwards should not put safety of Indian air passengers at stake. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) may have procrastinated for quite some time before grounding some of the aircraft belonging to IndiGo and GoAir aircraft fitted with these new but faulty engines. As a thumb rule, there should be zero tolerance to deviations in air safety. With people taking more and more to air travel, this is an area which can accommodate no compromise.

Though delayed, the DGCA decision to ground eleven aircraft, in addition to three others done earlier, should set the tone for a fresh review of air safety norms followed by aviation services companies, aircraft manufacturers and engine manufacturers. Cutting across the spectrum, all airlines may be subjected to close scrutiny given the increase in engine failures. As against an aggregate 25 incidents globally, that is one in every million flights, the high frequency of such failures across the Indian aviation industry cannot be ignored. For instance, there is no way to ignore the fact that there is one engine failure every week with IndiGo fleet having A320Neos during the last 18 months?

Whether twin or single-engine fitted, A320Neo aircraft cannot be allowed to fly unless proven, upgraded and tested alternative solutions are provided to tackle the persisting problems. Meanwhile, it needs to be noted that the DGCA did not identify the problem with the Pratt & Whitney engine fitted aircraft. European aviation regulators were the ones who alerted their counterparts globally on the impending disaster.

However, air safety concerns go beyond faulty engines. The growing number of flights, aircraft of every make, capacity and technology apart from seriously inadequate airports infrastructure have made air travel a virtual nightmare.

For instance, Air Mauritius and SpiceJet planes that came to close to each other in Chennai airspace in March 2015 had the potential for a mid-air collision. Similarly, none can forget the near miss at Goa airport between SpiceJet and GoAir aircraft in October 2016. Very fresh in readers’ minds would be the near miss involving three aircraft in New Delhi airspace that were flying at the same altitude and air paths. A shocking 40 per cent increase in near-miss incidents totalling 32 cases in 2016 alone have only heightened air safety concerns.

An added dimension to the air safety issue is the unruly or unacceptable behaviour of pilots on duty. In 2016 alone, at least 151 pilots violated safety protocols – it marked a 38 per cent increase in such incidents – leading to their suspension.

Air Traffic Control has not been above been board either. Out of 32 near-miss cases in 2016, 22 were attributed to ATC mismanagement, inadequate staffing or total disregard for safety of air passengers. While 1,000 air traffic controllers were recruited, the three training institutes do not have the wherewithal to train them all. If one were to sum up, the Indian aviation sector has thrived despite serious chaos and safety issues. Expansion of aviation industry should definitely be the priority of this government. The Narendra Modi regime, however, cannot ignore the fact that its primacy is towards air travellers and cargo that keep the industry running and not otherwise.