Sunday, November 03, 2019

Pilots’ Lives at Risk

A petition has been filed in the Karnataka High Court by a 69-year-old Bengaluru resident, Vinod Kumar Vyas, who questioned three specific clauses of the 2019 Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) of the DGCA concerning rest, duty time and sleep of pilots. These, he claimed, had diluted the earlier 2011 CAR. Following the petition, Karnataka Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice SR Krishna Kumar issued a notice to the ministry of civil aviation and DGCA, which they have to reply to by November 19, 2019.

In a scathing indictment of airlines, the petition alleged: “The CAR 2011 extensively laid down flight time and flight duty period restrictions and guidelines for the operators to follow. As per Rule 44A of the Aircraft Rules, every Airline Operator is required to formulate a ‘Scheme’ on the Flight Duty Time Limitations as per the CAR. Thereafter, the operator is required to get the Scheme approved by the DGCA….With a view to widen the pool of availability of pilots, it appears that the operators prevailed upon the DGCA to modify the CAR, by diluting the regulations relating to flight duty, rest and night operations. It further appears that, without consulting all the stakeholders and without conducting any scientific study, the DGCA has now issued a new Civil Aviation Requirement dated 24/04/2019, which is hereinafter referred to as the CAR 2019.” The new CAR, he said, was in violation of International Civil Aviation Organisation guidelines and the Dr Nasim Zaidi Committee.

Vyas specifically mentioned Clause 13 and 16 in the 2019 CAR. Clause 13, which deals with Consecutive Night Operation, says: “Flight crew shall neither be detailed nor undertake any flight duty between periods embracing 0000 to 0500 hrs local time for more than two consecutive nights except once within a period of 168 hours.” Between 12 midnight and 5 am is the period of circadian low when the alertness of an individual is at its lowest. But this new Clause allows airlines to put pilots on two consecutive nights of flight operations. However, the 2011 CAR had barred airlines from doing so.

Clause 16 deals with Unforeseen Operational Circumstances and this, too, was changed. From the existing maximum flight time of three hours and flight duty period of six hours over 30 days, CAR 2019 has increased it to a maximum flight time of 4.5 hours and flight duty period to 9 hours over 28 days. “This,” Vyas said, was “bound to add to the fatigue, exponentially, of the crew members and contribute to various hazards.”

He also asked the Court to direct DGCA to implement the recommendations of the Nasim Zaidi Committee. This panel had given an allowance of 30 minutes to pilots for post-flight duties such as parking, doing checklists, interacting with engineers, customs and immigration checks. It said this time should be included in “flight duty time”. However, CAR 2019 (Clause 4.1.2) has left this to the discretion of the operator/airline. Vyas said: “Any reduction in the standard allowance towards the post flight duty would eat into the ‘rest’ period of the pilots.” He urged the Court to quash these Clauses as they were “arbitrary and unreasonable”.
03/11/19 Shobha John/India Legal
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