This Article is From Nov 24, 2016

Pilots Say New Rules Could Force Them To Fly Sick, Risk Safety

Pilots Say New Rules Could Force Them To Fly Sick, Risk Safety

The livery of an aircraft operated by Jet Airways India Ltd.

New Delhi: Indian pilot unions are angry with the government. They say the authorities have now proposed new rules that may force them to fly sick.

Earlier this month, India's civil aviation ministry proposed changes to create stricter rules on pilots reporting for flight duty.

When pilots report being sick, according to the new government proposal, doctors employed by the airline will examine them. The ministry said that it can revoke their license if pilots "pretend to be sick" because it will be treated as "an act against public interest."

Unions say that this may give rise to sick pilots "pretending to be fit" out of fear. That could endanger passenger safety not only in India but also in the countries where their planes fly, including the United States.

The pilots will also be required to report for work according to the controversial "dynamic roster" of flight schedules as opposed to a fixed roster prepared earlier.

The changes, if passed, will be in force from December, the note said.

On Tuesday, three pilots unions in the country wrote to the government saying the proposed changes "would greatly imperil air safety."

The pilots said that airline doctors may not be equipped to diagnose quickly "non-routine illnesses" such as heart problems, back pain or mental stress.

The new proposals "will only force pilots to take risks and fly."

The changes were triggered by a recent standoff between pilots and management of Jet Airways. The pilots were protesting a new roster system that they said did not factor in their fatigue and often forced them to fly to difficult airfields at late hours. Several pilots reported being sick, disrupting flights for two days and leaving thousands of passengers stranded and angry.

Explaining the proposed changes, India's Directorate General of Civil Aviation said that it has observed a "pattern" of pilots reporting sick during festivals and weekends or to protest.

"In some cases, groups of pilots report sick without notice and, as a result, airlines are forced to delay or cancel their flights at the last minute," the note said.

Pilot unions, however, say the new frequently changing roster system, caused by an acute pilot shortage, leads to "high levels of stress, strain and fatigue," and is "hardly a desired state of mind for a pilot in command of a plane."

An audit by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration in 2014 downgraded India's safety ranking, citing inadequate regulatory oversight. But last year, the U.S. restored the ranking.

The last major air crash in India was in 2010 when 158 people died after the plan overshot a hilltop runway in the southern city of Mangalore.

However, there has been a rise in incidents of air safety violations this year. About 270 such incidents were reported until August this year. The number was estimated to climb higher by December. In comparison, last year there were 275 incidents.

The Indian Express newspaper reported nearly 35 near-misses between planes in the past year.

Last year, a ground crew member of the state-owned airline died after he was sucked into the engine of a parked plane in Mumbai. Another plane flying to London was forced to return to Mumbai after passengers found a rat on board.
© 2016 The Washington Post

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)