Today's Editorial

Today's Editorial - 09 April 2024

Indian aviation, a case of air safety at a discount

Relevance: GS Paper III

Why in News?

The Union Minister for Civil Aviation introduced revised Flight Duty Time Limitations (FDTL) Regulations that include increased rest periods, redefining night duty, and regular fatigue reports to be shared by airlines in January 2024, with a deadline of 1 June. However, Indian airline owners stated that they would need additional crew to meet these requirements, so flights would need to be curtailed. In March 2024, the DGCA deferred the deadline indefinitely.

Beyond Editorial:

Key highlights of the revised FDTL Regulations of January 2024:

  • Extended Weekly Rest Periods for flight crew: The revised regulations mandate increased weekly rest periods from 36 hours to 48 hours for flight crew, thus ensuring sufficient time for recovery from cumulative fatigue.
  • Night Duty: The definition of night has been amended, and it now covers the period of 0000-0600 hours in the revised regulations vis-à-vis the period of 0000-0500 hours under the previous regulations.
    • This enhancement of one hour during the early morning will ensure adequate rest and also align the night duty period, which encompasses the Window of Circadian Low (WOCL) from 0200-0600 hours, i.e. the time during which the circadian body clock cycle is at its lowest in terms of alertness.
  • Maximum Flight Time, Maximum Flight Duty Periods and Number of Landings during Night: The revised regulations have taken into consideration different types of operations across time zones. The maximum flight time & maximum flight duty period for flight operations encroaching night have been restricted to 8 hours flight time & 10 hours flight duty period, respectively, and the number of landings has been limited to only two landings as compared to the maximum permissible 6 landings under previous regulations during night operations, thus enhancing flight safety.
  • Quarterly fatigue reports: In addition, DGCA has mandated that all airline operators submit quarterly fatigue reports after analysis, including the Action Taken on such reports. Further, it has been stipulated that the fatigue reports shall follow a non-punitive and confidentiality policy.

Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) and its Significance:

  • The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) plans to adopt a new system for managing fatigue in flight crew called the Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS).
    • The revised Flight Duty Time Limitation (FDTL) regulation is the first step towards implementing FRMS in India.
  • FRMS is a data-driven approach that aims to improve the monitoring and reporting of flight crew fatigue.
  • To successfully implement FRMS, various stakeholders in the aviation industry, such as regulators, airline operators, and flight crew, will need to collaborate and demonstrate their readiness to transition to this new framework.
    • This will require stringent monitoring, record-keeping, and reporting to ensure adherence to the FRMS regime.

Need for Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS):

  • The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) has introduced the Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS) as a mandatory requirement.
  • The study of various accidents and serious incidents due to fatigue has shown sleep deprivation and impaired reaction times to be identified as a major cause.
  • Countries such as Japan, Singapore, and the United Kingdom place a lot of stress on flight crew fatigue management and rest periods for flight crew.
    • They follow a system where pilots get two days off every week to reset their body clock and recover from cumulative fatigue.
    • For long-haul flights, they are provided with augmented rest upon return to their home base.
  • Due to FDTL limits, pilots got just 30 days of annual leave and a day off every week. Compare this with ground personnel who got weekends off, which is 104 days, all public holidays, and their annual leave.
  • Airline schedules often do not take into account the limitations of human performance. Pilots are human beings and not machines. He or she needs time with their family, too. Two days off in a week is a must for being with family.

Other concerns in the aviation sector:

Runway End Safety Area (RESA):

  • The Minister for Civil Aviation warned the Kerala government in June 2023 that the safety of passengers at Kozhikode's Karipur airport was being compromised due to the lack of the Runway End Safety Area.
    • The Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) recommended this safety feature after an August 7, 2020, air crash.
    • The Minister stated that the Ministry would have to curtail the runway length for safe aircraft operations at Calicut airport from 01.08.2023 unless land is handed over to the AAI.
  • As of April 2024, no land has been made available, and flights continue at the airport without restrictions.

Utilisation of pilots and adherence to safety regulations:

  • While the DGCA sets minimum crew requirements, airlines can still choose to utilize pilots for less flight time and duty hours.
    • However, when airlines order aircraft, they typically follow the DGCA Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) for scheduled transport, which only sets the minimum crew requirement.
    • If compared to the Flight Duty Time Limitations (FDTL) CAR, the crew requirement would be more than double, depending on the type of operations.
  • Despite this, the DGCA does not monitor crew numbers based on the FDTL CAR requirements.
    • This is because it would affect the positive media coverage of large aircraft orders and downplay the hype surrounding India's aviation industry as the "fastest growing" in the world.

Financial stress on pilots:

  • Financial stress can have a detrimental effect on pilots, as evidenced by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) reports on the Silkair crash in 1997 and the Egyptair crash in 1999.
  • In India, authorities do not adequately address the dangers of financial stress, as seen in the copilots of Vistara, the only flourishing airline under the Tatas, who were given an ultimatum to sign a new pay structure contract or lose their command position when Vistara was merged with Air India.
    • This would have resulted in a 50% drop in income for a young pilot who had invested over a crore rupees to obtain his licence to fly.

Way forward:

  • There is an immediate solution to India's pilot shortage. India should adopt the ICAO Annex 1 Standard, which allows a member state to recognize another ICAO licence and issue an Indian licence based on only an Air Law examination and a Class I medical.
    • If the obstacles that the corrupt system puts in their way are removed, this will encourage hundreds of qualified and experienced Indian captains working abroad to return to India.
  • Retired pilots can also be used for simulator training. This step will free up a large number of trained pilots for active flying.
    • The DGCA, in collusion with airline management pilots, has a rule that requires an instructor or an examiner to be an active pilot.
      • However, a retired pilot working in a training centre abroad can perform the mandatory checks on Indian pilots.
    • Holding onto rules drafted in 1937 and a system with widespread corruption will never result in Indian aviation shining.
  • As for the Tatas and other private airlines, they need to deeply consider the importance of the human factor in aviation. Finding excuses such as 'Air Traffic Control delays' for large-scale flight disruption, as Vistara earlier cited, will not help.
    • It is transparency and building brand loyalty that will help them regain their past glory in aviation.


The Union Minister for Civil Aviation and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) frequently emphasise the importance of safety in India's rapidly growing aviation sector. However, there seems to be a contradiction when it comes to actual implementation of aviation safety measures. It is advisable for airlines to consider copilots as a long-term investment because they are future captains and can help in an airline's growth. Passengers should be made aware that there is a lack of clarity on safety standards among both the authorities and airlines.

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