India's aviation regulator has pulled up the national carrier Air India for operating long distance international flights with inadequate cabin crew.
The crew strength for a flight is decided based on the number of exits in an aircraft. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) rule in this matter states that there should be at least one flight attendant to man each exit and additional cabin staff to enable the rest on-board, in turns.
But the regulator's new order has revealed that often AI would declare an aircraft door 'inoperative' to cover up its crew shortage problem. While the airline's crew union had flagged the issue on several occasions, this is the first time the regulator has rapped the airline for the safety concern of operating a flight with inadequate crew.
"The practice of declaring a door inoperative to cater for cabin crew shortage is to cease with immediate effect," read the DGCA's warning note sent to the airline's in-flight service department on March 19.
Sources in the DGCA office said that crew shortage is a serious safety issue. "A flight attendant's role is not merely cabin service. Their principle role is safe evacuation of passengers in case of a mid-air emergency," said a senior DGCA official requesting anonymity.
Neither the AI spokesperson nor the airline's chairman or the managing director Rohit Nandan responded to HT's query on the issue.
The airline recently began re-hiring its retired cabin crew to tackle its crew shortage issue.
The DGCA order has also opened another can of worms that indicated Air India's senior management may have aided the safety violations in question. On January 12, HT had reported that five Europe-bound AI flights were allegedly operated without adequate cabin crew.
The report also stated that the aviation regulator's nodal officer with Air India had approved the operations. "The order proves that the airline had been lying about taking DGCA approval every time it operated a flight by declaring an exit inoperative," a member with the airline's cabin crew union said, requesting anonymity.