An unusually high number of incidents involving SpiceJet aircraft has prompted the aviation regulator to seek an explanation from the airline. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation, or DGCA, has pointed out big gaps on how the airline is functioning, from operating flights with "degraded safety margins", issues that point at "poor internal safety oversight" to vendors not being paid on time, leading to shortage of spare parts for the SpiceJet fleet.
The government's notice said SpiceJet is operating its fleet on MEL, or Minimum Equipment List, which means the aircraft are considered safe to fly but not all systems are necessarily operational.
Yesterday, a SpiceJet cargo plane flying to China returned to Kolkata after its weather radar stopped working. It was the eighth incident of technical malfunction on a SpiceJet aircraft in the last 18 days.
"...It has been observed that at number of occasions, the aircraft either turned back to its originating station or continued landing at the destination with degraded safety margins," the DGCA said in the notice.
"The (DGCA) review transpires that poor internal safety oversight and inadequate maintenance actions (as most of the incidents are related to either component failure or system related failure) has resulted in degradation of safety margins," the aviation regulator said.
"Financial assessment carried out by DGCA in September 2021 has also revealed that airline is operating on cash and carry and suppliers/approved vendors are not being paid on regular basis, leading to shortage of spares..." it said. "...It may be deduced that SpiceJet Ltd has failed to establish a safe, efficient and reliable air services," the DGCA said.
Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya M Scindia also tweeted a copy of the DGCA notice. "Passenger safety is paramount. Even the smallest error hindering safety will be thoroughly investigated and course-corrected," he said.
Passenger safety is paramount. Even the smallest error hindering safety will be thoroughly investigated & course-corrected. https://t.co/UD1dJb05wS— Jyotiraditya M. Scindia (@JM_Scindia) July 6, 2022
SpiceJet in a statement said it will respond to the notice within the specified time period.
"We are committed to ensuring a safe operation for our passengers and crew. We are an IATA-IOSA certified airline. SpiceJet successfully completed the meticulous audit programme for recertification in October 2021. We have been regularly audited by DGCA. All our aircraft were audited a month ago by the regulator and found to be safe. All flights of SpiceJet are conducted in compliance with the applicable regulations of the DGCA Civil Aviation Regulations on the subject," a SpiceJet spokesperson said, referring to the International Air Transport Association and the IATA Operational Safety Audit.
The DGCA has said most incidents are routine and addressed in no time. ""On an average about 30 incidents do take place, which includes go around, missed approaches, diversions, medical emergencies, weather, technical, bird hit, runway incursions and excursions and ATC issues. Most of them have no safety implications," Director General of Civil Aviation Arun Kumar told NDTV.
Some of the recent incidents involving SpiceJet aircraft are:
May 4: Chennai-Durgapur aircraft turned back after one of its engines had to be shut down mid-air due to oil filter warning.
May 28: Mumbai-Gorakhpur flight returned to base after its windshield cracked at 23,000 feet.
June 19: Jabalpur-bound plane returned to Delhi after cabin pressure did not build up with the gain in altitude.
June 19: Patna-Delhi aircraft made emergency landing after its engine caught fire due to a bird hit soon after take-off.
July 2: Jabalpur-bound aircraft returned to Delhi after smoke was seen in cabin.
July 5: Kandla-Mumbai flight landed at Mumbai airport after the aircraft's windshield cracked.
July 5: Delhi-Dubai aircraft diverted to Karachi after fuel indicator started malfunctioning.
July 5: Cargo plane to China turned back to Kolkata after weather radar failed.
SpiceJet has been running into losses for the last three years. The carrier incurred a net loss of Rs 316 crore, Rs 934 crore and Rs 998 crore in 2018-19, 2019-20 and 2020-21, respectively.