Delhi HC Calls for Timeline on DGCA Pilot Duty Time Revisions

Too Many Flights!: Mumbai Airport Asked To Reduce Congestion
Wireman27, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

In January 2024, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the regulatory body for Indian aviation, amended the rules governing pilot duty time.

This revision aimed to improve pilot well-being and flight safety by increasing the mandatory weekly rest period from 36 hours to 48 hours.

While pilots largely welcomed the change, airlines expressed concerns about potential scheduling disruptions.

This difference in perspective has landed the issue in the Delhi High Court (HC), which is seeking a concrete implementation timeline from the DGCA.

Prioritizing Safety: The Pilot’s Perspective

The Indian Pilots Guild, represented by Advocate Neetika Bajaj, argues that the revised duty time norms are essential for ensuring pilot alertness and reducing fatigue.

Prolonged working hours can lead to decreased cognitive function and reaction times, potentially compromising flight safety.

The additional rest period would allow pilots to recuperate more effectively, mitigating these risks.

Sanjay Ghose, counsel for the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), echoed this sentiment. He acknowledged the positive impact of the new rules compared to previous norms.

While the ICPA may have specific objections, they will be addressed after the DGCA provides a revised implementation timeline.

A line of three Air India Airbuses parked at Delhi Airport terminal.
calflier001, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Airlines Scheduling Challenges

Airlines, however, have raised concerns about the feasibility of implementing the revised norms by the initial June 1, 2024 deadline.

They argue that the sudden increase in mandatory rest time would necessitate additional staffing to maintain flight schedules. This could translate to higher operational costs for airlines, potentially impacting ticket prices.

Finding a workable solution requires careful consideration of both safety and operational efficiency. The airlines’ concerns highlight the potential logistical challenges associated with a rapid shift in pilot work schedules.

Ravi Dwivedi, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

DGCA in the Hot Seat: Balancing Interests

The Delhi HC’s intervention underscores the need for a transparent and inclusive decision-making process.

Advocate Bajaj’s argument suggests that the DGCA may not have adequately consulted stakeholders, particularly pilots’ unions, before placing the implementation on hold.

The court’s role is to ensure that the DGCA strikes an appropriate balance. Both pilot well-being and the operational needs of the aviation industry must be weighed.

A well-defined implementation timeline, arrived at through open communication with all parties involved, is crucial for achieving this balance.

The Path Forward

Finding a sustainable solution requires collaboration between the DGCA, airlines, and pilot unions. Here are some potential strategies which have been floated:

  • Phased Implementation: A gradual increase in the mandatory rest period over a set timeframe. This could allow airlines to adjust staffing plans more effectively.
  • Incentives for Early Adoption: The DGCA could explore offering incentives to airlines that proactively adopt the revised norms. This measure may potentially easethe transition.
  • Open Communication: Maintaining open communication channels between the DGCA, airlines, and pilot unions is essential for addressing concerns and finding mutually agreeable solutions.

The revised duty time norms represent a positive step towards prioritizing pilot well-being and flight safety in Indian aviation.

By fostering a collaborative approach that acknowledges the concerns of all stakeholders, the DGCA can ensure a smooth and successful implementation that benefits both pilots and the aviation industry as a whole.

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By Len Varley - Assistant Editor 4 Min Read
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