With studies indicating that up to eight per cent of all accidents are caused by fatigue, the Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG) which represents the international pilots of India’s national carrier Air India, has volunteered to partially fund a study on the factor.
Members of the IPG are the only ones in India who fly ultra long haul (12-14 hour) flights, like flights between India and the United States.
The guild’s offer comes in the wake of a series of meetings during the last week of October, initiated by the Indian civil aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) with civil airline stake holders, including pilot associations and airline owners.
The DGCA which is facing a deadline by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) — a regulatory body under the UN — for all member states to formulate fatigue prevention rules that are founded on a “knowledge-based, scientific approach,” has proposed a review of the regulations that govern duty and rest periods.
Speaking to The Hindu, senior members of the IPG said the study should be conducted through impartial, independent bodies such as the Indian Air Force’s medical establishments, using doctors who are aviation medicine specialists.
The guild is of the view that the findings could “help resolve the historical conflict between the flight safety concerns of pilots and the commercial interests of airline operators.”
Pilots also feel that only an impartial study would throw up hard documentary evidence of the serious risk of fatigue-related accidents in India, evidence that cannot be manipulated to suit commercial airlines.
The last such study was conducted in 1989-90 when the DGCA formed a committee headed by the then Director-General P.C. Sen, to study pilot fatigue. One of the committee’s recommendations was that the minimum rest for a pilot should be at least eight times the time zone difference encountered during a duty period. Hence a pilot flying London-Mumbai encountering a time zone difference of approximately five-and-a-half hours should have at least 5.5x 8, or 44 hours of rest. But as per current DGCA rules he is entitled to just double the flying hours (10x2) or 20 hours. Other recommendations are also gathering dust.
Pilots are of the view that a fresh study is imperative since a lot has changed since the last one. They cite the usage of new types of aircraft, a reduction under normal conditions in the number of flight deck crew from four to two (flight engineers, navigators and radio officers are no longer used, increasing the workload on pilots), the DGCA’s increase in the retirement age of pilots from 60 to 65, and the commencement of ultra long range flight operations in India. They also refer to the reduction in the number of flying hours — from 250 to 200 — needed to obtain an Indian Commercial Pilots Licence.
Pilots also feel that the DGCA must give members of the public and insurance companies a chance to air their views on the subject.