Recently, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) released the revised Flight Duty Time Limitation (FDTL) guidelines publically. Various changes have been made to the pilot working guidelines. The minimum rest period has been increased from 36 hours to 48 hours. The definition of the nighttime period has been revised to 12:00-06:00. Earlier, it used to be 12:00-05:00. The new timing ensures that it covers the Window of Circadian Law (WOCL).
Furthermore, the maximum number of landings allowed during the night period has been revised from uncapped to two. The flight duty period and flying time have been revised to 10 hrs and 8 hrs respectively.
Airlines Worried: Hiring Challenges
First of all, let me clear my stance. This article is unbiased and will show the perspective of both the parties: the airline as well as the pilots. Hence, read till the last.
Indian Airlines are worried regarding these revised guidelines. The industry expects to hire 20 percent more workforce than the current one. It will take huge costs to train this much amount of crew. The revised DGCA FDTL guidelines will be active with effect from June 1.
Within this short span of time, it is not possible to train the crew. There are chances that the airline can hire First Officers. But India is already very close to witnessing a captain’s shortage. This rule will sprinkle oil over the fire. Even if airlines hire unemployed pilots or Junior First Officers, it will take a lot of time to train them before being released on duty. A JFO normally takes 8 months to get the First Officer rank.
Problem With Night Duty Period
If a pilot’s flying duty starts between 12:00 PM and 06:00 AM, then he/she is not allowed to operate more than two landings, as per revised guidelines.
A senior captain told The Hindu that currently, there are patterns that a pilot starts the first flight at 04:00 or 05:00 AM, so they are falling under the same umbrella. Right now, such pilots can operate 4 landings in a day. However, after the initiation of these revised guidelines, a crew will have to step off as soon as it completes two landings. As a result of this, crew utilization will go heavily down. This will create a requirement for hiring more pilots. In 2019, a similar situation of pilot shortage arose in which airlines hired expat pilots mostly from Greece.
This will largely affect the Middle East network of Indian airlines. Airlines like IndiGo, Vistara, and specifically, Air India Express operate a lot of flights to the Middle East during night hours. At slot-constrained airports, airlines operate a large number of red-eye flights. Red-eye flights mean that the flight starts at night and arrives at the destination in the morning.
Over-Reaction From the Regulator?
An airline CEO in an interview with the Economic Times said that these rules are incredibly limiting and termed them as an over-reaction from the regulator. He added that increasing the number of pilots in such a short time is practically impossible.
Chief Executive Officer of CAPA India, Kapil Kaul said that there are high chance that airlines will be affected by this. Airlines will need 20 percent more pilots to sustain current operations.
DGCA said that they have revised the rules after a huge research. In the research and analysis conducted of fatigue data of many pilots, the regulator that pilots flying during the night time period are most prone to fatigue issues. As a result of this, it has reduced the number of flights to two during the night. This will help improve flight safety.
Honestly speaking, a pilot in India is actually a labor also called ‘dihaadi majdoor’ with a bit high salary. There is a term called inflation. With the passing of time, inflation increases. Companies make sure that the employee payment is on par with inflation. But if you analyze Indian aviation data correctly, you will find that most of the airlines are paying the same as they used to do 10 years back. Airlines like SpiceJet do not even pay salaries on time.
There are no provisions for leaves. Airline management threatens you with action if you ask for sick leave. Last year, a mail surfaced on social media in which a pilot working with Vistara asked the airline for leave because the health condition of his mother was not good and he had an appointment with the doctor. The airline replied with a not-so-pleasant answer. It said that if possible, the pilot can change the appointment date, but no leave will be granted. This is the state of affairs of pilots working with Indian airlines today.
These FDTL guidelines were revised by DGCA only after a few pilots died due to cardiac arrests. Last year, an IndiGo captain collapsed near the boarding gate at Nagpur Airport. He was rushed to hospital but could not survive. Being a pilot in India is not easy.