As air traffic continues on its northward trajectory and aircraft fleet expands, tackling fatigue among pilots, in a holistic manner, seems to be a focal area for airlines and authorities. While leading carriers have introduced tools to analyse and keep a tab on pilot fatigue, aviation watchdog DGCA has proposed more rest hours for the pilots, and the new norms, if implemented, could also mean that airlines might have to reduce the number of flights.
According to two senior commercial pilots, implementation of the proposed DGCA norms will help in addressing fatigue issues and provide a big relief for the pilots.
The draft norms, which have been put out for stakeholders’ comments, proposed more rest time for pilots.
In recent months, the issue of fatigue has been in focus, especially after the death of an IndiGo pilot, who had collapsed at the boarding gate of Nagpur airport in September. And on Thursday, an Air India pilot during a training session showed signs of discomfort and later died at the Delhi airport.
Air India said the pilot was not on active flying duty and was undergoing conversion training to operate wide-body aircraft.
The country’s largest airline IndiGo’s CEO Pieter Elbers, on November 6, said the issue of pilot fatigue needs a “very considerate, holistic and in-depth approach”.
The carrier, with a domestic market share of more than 62 per cent, has introduced a tool to analyse fatigue among pilots.
“The best way to improve safety is to work in a transparent measure… We are taking the feedback (on pilots’ fatigue) seriously,” Elbers said.
“…We will take international experience, what is the framework for working hours in EU, the US… how does it compare to the Indian framework,” he had said in response to queries about the issue of fatigue among pilots.
According to Elbers, these topics require a very considerate, holistic and in-depth approach.
Air India has also introduced a tool in its rostering system that will help in mitigating fatigue among pilots as well as put in place various initiatives to ensure the stability of rosters and minimise disruptions.
On September 15, Air India CEO and Managing Director Campbell Wilson said the airline has introduced several new initiatives in tandem that seek to increase the stability of printed rosters and minimise disruptions, utilise standby blocks optimally, and set up efficient communications channels.
Mentioning about the safety protocols being introduced in all aspects of the airline’s operations, Wilson earlier said, “We launched Coruson a few weeks ago, which was followed by the Boeing Alertness Model (BAM)3, the fatigue mitigating tool in our Jeppesen rostering system, that will prevent publishing fatiguing rosters and pairings”.
Last year, a survey of more than 500 pilots showed that the majority of them admitted to falling asleep without the planning/ consent of the other crew or experienced microsleep.
Earlier this month, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) came out with draft amendments to norms governing duty timings of flight crew, including more rest time for pilots.
The watchdog has proposed a weekly rest of continuous 48 hours and a reduced flight duty period of 10 hours for pilots operating flights at night.
Besides, the heads of operations of scheduled airlines have to submit a quarterly report to the DGCA on the fatigue reports received and actions taken during the preceding quarter, as per the draft norms.
“An operator shall ensure that the minimum weekly rest of continuous 48 hours, including two local nights is provided such that there shall never be more than 168 hours between the end of one weekly rest period and the start of the next,” it had said.
Currently, the rest period is 36 hours.
Changes have been proposed to the Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) pertaining to ‘Duty Period, Flight Duty Period, Flight Time Limitations and Prescribed Rest Periods — Flight crew Engaged in Scheduled Air Transport Operations’ and comments have been sought on the draft till December 4.
Last year, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) — a global grouping of airlines, including from India — said fatigue has long been identified as a potential safety risk and the industry has developed extensive Standards and Recommended Practices (SARPs) around managing fatigue risk.
India is one of the fastest-growing civil aviation markets in the world, and domestic air passenger traffic in the country recorded an annual growth of nearly 11 per cent to 1.26 crore in October.
Indian airlines have placed orders for more than 1,100 aircraft that are to be delivered in the coming years, and Akasa Air is expected to place a “triple-digit order” for narrow-body planes this year.
In February this year, aviation consultancy CAPA said Indian carriers are likely to place orders for 1,500 to 1,700 planes in the next one to two years.