The Indian Civil Aviation watchdog, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), on Wednesday asked Delhi-based low-cost airline SpiceJet to restrict to “50 percent the number of departures approved under Summer Schedule 2022 for a period of eight weeks.” The DGCA cuts back SpiceJet’s schedule.

The exact number of flights and which sectors will be affected were not immediately known as officials declined to comment saying this was commercial information.

The decrease in the number of flights comes into effect from Wednesday. The order has been passed in view of the findings of various spot checks, inspections, and the reply to a show cause notice submitted by the airline for the continued sustenance of safe and reliable air transport service, the DGCA order says.

The DGCA action follows reported incidents on aircraft operated between April 1 and July 5 this year during which it was observed that “on a number of occasions, the aircraft either turned back to its originating station or continued landing to the destination with degraded safety margins.”

The order adds, “there is poor internal safety oversight and inadequate maintenance actions, which have resulted in degradation of the safety margins.” On May 1 about 40 passengers and crew on a flight from Mumbai to Durgapur suffered minor injuries due to a turbulent landing. Two days later an engine failure on a SpiceJet flight did not allow it to take off from Mumbai and, on the same day, a flight returned to Chennai after an engine shutdown. On June 19 a Patna-Delhi flight returned to Patna as the engine caught fire after a bird strike. And, on July 5 a Delhi-Dubai flight had to land in Karachi (Pakistan) after its fuel indicator malfunctioned.

A financial assessment carried out by DGCA in September 2021 showed that the airline “is operating on cash & carry and suppliers/approved vendors are not being paid on regular basis leading to the shortage of spares and frequent invoking of Minimum Equipment List (MELs).”

SpiceJet: no flight cancellations

Following the DGCA order a SpiceJet spokesperson said, that due to the current lean travel season, SpiceJet like other airlines had already rescheduled its flight operations. “Hence, there will be absolutely no impact on our flight operations. We want to reassure our passengers and travel partners that our flights will operate as per schedule in the coming days and weeks. There will be no flight cancellation as a consequence of this order,” the spokesperson said.

He further added that the DGCA’s observation that SpiceJet is taking measures for arresting the trend of incidents is very encouraging and the airline will continue to work under the close guidance of the regulator.

Terming the move as “Brillant” an Indian aviation analyst who declined to be identified said that the airline can now argue that it is a force majeure. “Airlines make money only when they fly. This being the monsoon season the airline needs a reason to shrink capacity. Now, this order gives it a free pass,” the analyst said, adding that the airline can now delay/suspend payments saying DGCA by its own account said all good (yesterday) then came down with this order (so it was unforeseen).

On Monday, General V K Singh, the Central Minister of State for Civil Aviation informed the upper house of Parliament that the DGCA had conducted 53 spot checks on 48 SpiceJet aircraft over five days earlier this month, but did not find any major violation of safety guidelines.

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Former Senior Deputy Editor at Business Line (aka The Hindu Business Line)

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