Nine out of 10 flights out of Mumbai now take-off on time as opposed to only 45 per cent departures on schedule until two months ago. A rule punishing delayed flights that came into effect last week made the difference.
From next week, the aviation regulator will start punishing late arrivals. Hindustan Times talks to Alok Sinha, joint secretary with the civil aviation ministry, the man who set the ball rolling.
What was the trigger for enforcing the rule of punishing delays? The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) circular was passed last year.
The DGCA circular last year was issued after extensive deliberations between the ministry, DGCA and air traffic control (ATC) officers.
We used to get daily information on the punctuality since then. In fact, notices were also issued to airlines for the delayed flights but somehow results were not encouraging. Then we thought an integrated approach was necessary.
Because for the aircraft to take off on time there are many agencies involved from airport operator, ATC, airlines, ground handling, catering and commercial staff. Maybe the stakeholders were not able to convey the importance of the circular to their staff at different airports. Secondly, implementing the circular involved some tough decisions regarding early closing of check-in counters. There had to be some uniformity so that late check-in is not used as a marketing point.
In short, we realised that improving punctuality involved a major shift in the entire work culture of all stakeholders concerned. It required something more than merely issuing the circular.
Everyone wanted the change to happen but somehow the actions were not forthcoming. So we decided to take the bull by the horns and address the problem in the worst affected airport that is Mumbai.
We called all the stakeholders because we believed that the best compliance would be through willingness. If there were any doubts, all agencies were present to solve them. The first few days were tough but things got streamlined soon.
How did the ministry tackle the pressure from the airline lobby? They were defiant initially.
You will be surprised that there was appreciation from the airlines because we helped them do something they were not able to do themselves.
Is there any process in place to monitor flier feedback on flight punctuality?
We have asked airport operators to include One-Time Performance in their feedback.
I think it will work best if you also have an independent assessment at your level.
What are other areas that you think need to be disciplined immediately?
Until now, we were concentrating on timely departures. The next step is to solve the problem of arrival congestion at major airports.
The underlying principle will be the same that a delayed flight should not be allowed to hold up an on-time flight. We will also try to streamline the winter schedule so that it is practical and the delay is not inbuilt.