A snap safety audit of airline major SpiceJet following a series of planes skidding on wet runways in the current monsoon season appears to have opened a can of worms. Turns out that the pilots who ought to have been given fresh training to learn to cope with adverse weather conditions were merely counselled over the phone by officials overseeing their functioning, putting the lives of hundreds of passengers at risk.
If the charges slapped by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), India’s aviation watchdog, in its show-cause notices to four top SpiceJet officials are anything to go by, not all safety protocols were adhered to. In its current audit, the DGCA looked into various aspects like flight operational quality assurance monitoring, occurrence reporting, safety management systems and pilot training. In almost all of them, it found the airline wanting.
The accidents could have been prevented had the airline implemented the DGCA’s earlier advisories, one of its notices said. The allegations come months after SpiceJet received the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) operational safety audit certificate. The IATA is a global grouping of around 290 airlines. SpiceJet is now an IATA member and its chairman and managing director Ajay Singh is on the IATA board. How the IATA missed the safely lapses flagged by the DGCA remains a mystery.
The DGCA did the audit as three incidents within a week of planes belonging to the same airline veering off runways was too much of a coincidence. Three more planes belonging to two other airlines, GoAir and Air India Express, similarly went out of control while landing in the recent past, adding to the worry. The DGCA also derostered all 12 pilots involved in the incidents and put them on notice.
A special audit of all other Indian airlines and airports is also on the anvil. While the sector is expanding at breakneck speed, it cannot be at the expense of passenger safety. It’s good the watchdog barked on noticing an unusual pattern. If required, it must be prepared to bite.