After series of delays and cancellations, AI chief finally intervenes

  • Soubhik Mitra, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Nov 12, 2014 23:07 IST

More than a week after witnessing frequent flight delays and cancellations Air India’s (AI) chief intervened into the developing crisis on Tuesday. Rohit Nandan, the airline’s chairman and managing director appointed a three-member committee investigate the problems disturbing AI’s flight operations.

Nandan’s note sent to department heads read, “It has been observed lately a large number of flights in the network are getting delayed or cancelled owing to cabin crew. Many of these delays are of more than one hour which is of grave concern.” HT has a copy of the note. The committee comprised senior officials from the engineering, crew scheduling and in-flight services posted in Delhi and Mumbai.

According to the airline officials, the committee has been directed to critically examine original crew rosters, constraints under which it is generated, reasons of change during roster cycle, crew absenteeism and the cause of providing adequate back up crew.

The airline chief has asked the committee to submit its findings within two weeks.

An Air India spokesperson confirmed that the management had formed a committee.

"It is necessary to find the root cause of flight delays and cancellations," said the spokesperson.

Hundreds of AI fliers had been stranded across different airports in the country owing to last minute flight delays and cancellation since November 1. The disruptions were plagued by three-pronged problems – massive overbooking of flights, about eight grounded planes and shortage of flight crew, officials added.

In fact the civil aviation ministry had rapped the airline for overbooking many domestic flights by up to 35% (globally 15% is acceptable) and poor maintenance of its Airbus fleet, which is predominantly used for domestic operations. The airline is also facing a shortage of 120 co-pilots and 70 commanders for domestic operations. Shortage of 25 examiner rank pilots and 20 instructors and put its training process in a limbo.

The national carrier operated the second highest number of flights that missed its scheduled take-off or landing time on more than 20% of the times they were operated in October in Mumbai. According to data from the civil aviation ministry it operated 92 such flights in and out of the city last month.

Recent incidents

* November 2: Air India flights on metro routes connecting Mumbai were delayed more than four hours.

* November 3: Air India flights to Patna, Bhopal and Ranchi from Delhi were delayed by up to five hours

* November 3: Air India Calicut-Jeddah flight delayed by 24 hours after the aircraft’s anti-collision warning system stopped working

* November 4: Many flights on domestic metro routes were failed to take off on time

* November 9: Flights to Newark and London were delayed for several hours

* November 11: The daily London-Mumbai flight and the return service from the city to Heathrow were cancelled for want of aircraft and crew

Other factors

1. Massive overbooking: The airline has been overbooking its flights on many domestic routes up to 35 %. Globally 15% overbooking is permitted in anticipation of last minute cancellations or passengers who miss their flights

2. Grounded planes: At least eight Airbus A320 planes which comprise Air India’s primary domestic operations fleet have been grounded owing to poor maintenance

3. Pilots’ shortage: The airline is facing a shortage of around 190 pilots owing to massive exodus over the past few months.

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