Concerned over fatigued pilots and cabin crew posing a risk to passenger safety, the Delhi High Court today took to task aviation regulator DGCA for allowing airlines to change stipulated flight and duty time limitations (FDTLs).
A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar said that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) was going against its own Aircraft Rules by allowing such changes and questioned its power to do so.
“We cannot have regulations which go beyond the rules in order to cater to the market requirements of airlines. It is manifestly illegal and a threat to passenger safety. You have no power to permit variations (of FDTLs),” the court told the DGCA and added that if it wanted the power, it would have to get the Aircraft Act and Rules amended.
“You cannot undo what the legislature has consciously done,” the court said.
The bench said that the “prime requirement” was passenger safety and not whether pilots have complained.
The court said that lack of complaints by pilots or accidents were “not the answer” and asked the regulator how many times it carried out risk assessments regarding pilot fatigue before permitting the variations.
It also asked, “Why fix standards of maximum flying time and minimum rest period when you are going to vary them.”
The observations came after the DGCA said variations were being permitted as there have been no accidents because of that and also no pilot has complained of fatigue till date.
The court asked the regulator that if people die because it did not do its duty, then what it has done would amount to murder as was allegedly stated by the petitioner, Kerala-based lawyer Yashwanth Shenoy, in his emails to the DGCA.
The bench directed the regulator to disclose the number of changes it has permitted post amendment of the Aircraft Rules in 2016 when its power to make variations to FDTLs was taken away.
It also ordered the regulator to produce its original records of the requests received from the different airlines as well as a tabulation of the exemptions or variations that were granted before the amendment and were still in force.
The bench further directed the DGCA to state on affidavit that it has not granted any exemptions or variations after the 2016 amendment to the Aircraft Rules.
With the direction, the court listed the PIL, which raises issues of pilot and air crew fatigue, obstacles around the Indira Gandhi International Airport and passenger safety, for further hearing on April 18.
According to Shenoy, the maximum flying time is around 125 hours per week and this gets varied according to the requirements of an airline, each of which has a different FDTLs.
During the hearing, the bench on a lighter note said, “He (Shenoy) is right. If we hear the matter, we will stop flying.”
Earlier, the Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL), which operates the IGI, had told the court that there were 365 obstacles around the aviation hub that may pose a threat to aircraft safety.
Shenoy, in his plea, has recalled what set him off on this path was the 2010 Mangalore air crash. On May 22 that year, Air India Express Flight 812 from Dubai to Mangalore overshot the runway on landing after which it caught fire, the plea has said. Of the 160 passengers and six crew members on board, only eight had survived.
He has claimed that the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, the Central lndustrial Security Force and the Delhi Police have not taken airport security seriously and buildings and hotels around the airport were operating without complying with the conditions imposed.