Imagine a scenario when fatigued, jet lagged pilots - struggling to just stay awake - are still forced to fly because they have written orders to do so. This may sound like a recipe for disaster but national carrier Air India issued a similar circular to all its crew on December 15, asking them to extend their flying hours beyond the prescribed limits, especially in cases when a flight was diverted and the attempt was to have it land at its scheduled destination.
Air India claimed that the advisory had the clearance of the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
For passengers this would seem fair, that the flight is bringing them to where they are supposed to be. But for pilots it's a nightmare.
For example, a flight from Delhi to London is diverted to Mumbai due to fog. The passengers can sleep on the aircraft but even after the nine-hour flight, the pilots have to be alert almost every minute. They fly out of time zones and that affects their body clock.
Their bodies cannot maintain that level of alertness indefinitely and that's why 2 pilots after 9 hours of flying, and three hours of other duty, need rest.
And this is why there are set limits to their flying hours called flight duty time limitation. It also ensures that the passengers are safe.
But in this case, Air India expects them go on and bring back the flight to Delhi until the fog lifts - which could be a couple of more hours of flying.
When NDTV brought this to the notice of the DGCA, it said, "We have not given any dispensation in addition to what is in existence and there is no such open ended waiver. Air India has been told to clarify this immediately."
The Air India management says they will withdraw the order. They say the order was given "just to ensure that passengers are not inconvenienced".
But perhaps it's better that passengers are slightly inconvenienced than a little unsafe.