Domestic airlines will have to depute their most experienced pilots for flights to tourists hubs such as Leh, Kullu and Kathmandu following their inclusion in the aviation safety regulator’s new list of most critical airfields.
Last week, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) issued a new list of eight critical airfields, mostly airports in north India and the tabletop Mangalore airstrip that witnessed the country’s third deadliest aviation disaster in 2010, when 158 people were killed in the crash of an Air India Express flight .
The Mangalore airport is situated on a hillock. If a pilot makes an incorrect estimation of the landing or take-off, the aircraft could overshoot the strip and go down hill -- the reason for the Air India crash.
Other airports located in hilly and mountainous regions, and those close to water bodies are classified as 'special'.
The other airports included in the DGCA list are Shimla, Lengpui in Mizoram and Kabul.
About 1.4 lakh tourists, including 30,000-odd foreigners, travelled to Leh last year. Kullu received just over 1.20 lakh tourists a year until 2012, the second highest figure after Shimla, according to the Himachal Pradesh’s tourism ministry.
Katmandu hosted more than 1.80 lakh Indian travellers until 2013. Kabul and Kathmandu are also serviced by domestic airlines.
Flights to Leh need to have the most experienced pilots, with at least 1,000 flying hours for commanders of planes on the route. Junior pilots need to have 300 hours of flying experience, the directive said.
These pilots have to conduct take-off trials on a simulator and conduct at least three flights under the supervision of a trainer pilot in the cockpit before being put on the roster.
“There were significant shortcomings in the training requirements of pilots plying to critical airfields. The directive is aimed that plugging those gaps,” said a senior DGCA official on condition of anonymity.
The crackdown began last year after the DGCA found that at least three budget airlines were operating full capacity flights to Patna and Jammu, both airfields until then. According to the rules, airlines are supposed to cut down flight weight – by cutting down air cargo or flying empty seats – to such airfields.
Similarly, an Air India pilots’ union had opposed flying to Kabul and Katmandu in 2011, citing poor infrastructure and the unsafe terrain.
The DGCA circular added that airlines should include route competence to their pilots’ training drill. Route competence would test pilots’ knowledge of flying above terrain, meteorological conditions and communication procedures with air navigators.