Jet shuts shop, AI flight over North Pole: Highs and lows of aviation sector in 2019

While the domestic passenger numbers have recovered with other airlines taking over Jet’s flying slots, the international sector, where the airline was a major player, is yet to reach its pre-April figures.
An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX airplanes parked on the tarmac at the Boeing Factory in Renton, Washington, U.S.(REUTERS)
An aerial photo shows Boeing 737 MAX airplanes parked on the tarmac at the Boeing Factory in Renton, Washington, U.S.(REUTERS)
Updated on Dec 28, 2019 07:04 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, Mumbai | ByNeha LM Tripathi

The shutting down of Jet Airways’s operations in April, the grounding of Boeing 737 MAX 8 planes and a crackdown on snag-hit Pratt and Whitney (P&W) engines in Airbus320neo aircraft had a huge impact on the aviation sector in 2019. These changes led to a massive rise in air fares and a drop in footfall at major airports such as Delhi and Mumbai. While the domestic passenger numbers have recovered with other airlines taking over Jet’s flying slots, the international sector, where the airline was a major player, is yet to reach its pre-April figures.

Here are some of the major events, and glitches, that marked the aviation sector this year:

February 12: Crew crunch forces IndiGo to cancel 70 flights

The airline cancelled flights for a week, primarily owing to shortage of pilots. This affected operations on routes such as Kolkata-Delhi, Kolkata-Nagpur, Kolkata-Chennai, Kolkata-Bangalore, Hyderabad-Kolkata, Hyderabad-Bangalore, Ahmedabad-Udaipur, Ahmedabad-Bangalore, Mumbai-Delhi, and Bangalore-Raipur routes. India’s largest airline by market share, IndiGo on December 18 announced that it has touched a milestone of 1,500 flight departures daily in December across 83 destinations, with 2.5 lakh passengers flying with the airline daily.

March 13: Ban on Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft in SpiceJet and Jet’s fleets

Aviation regulator Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) grounded Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft in SpiceJet and now-defunct Jet Airways’s fleets after two deadly crashes involving Ethiopian Airlines and Lion Air of Malaysia. The decision to ground these planes was taken after the European Union and many other countries across the world banned the use of 737 MAX 8 aircraft in their respective airspaces.

April 16: Jet shuts operations

The airline failed to get funds to run operations and announced a shutdown, leaving 20,000 workers jobless. The then Naresh Goyal-promoted airline, which also had a strategic partnership with Etihad Airways, initially started cancelling flights, cutting routes, grounding planes and handing pink slips to employees owing to the cash crunch. It finally decided to halt operations on April 15. The airline is currently undergoing bankruptcy proceedings.

May 7: IAF aircraft gets stuck after overshooting Mumbai runway

An Indian Air Force transport plane, AN-32, overshot Mumbai airport’s main runway- 27 during take-off, causing delays in flight departures. The main runway had to be closed to remove the IAF aircraft, forcing commercial operations to shift to the shorter, narrower and less-efficient secondary runway. Airport officials said while the incident took place late on May 7, aircraft retrieval process began only the next morning. The main runway was finally opened for flights at 4.51pm on May 8.

May: Boeing and AAI sign tech assistance agreement

Boeing and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) signed a technical assistance agreement for developing a comprehensive 10-year Communication, Navigation and Surveillance/Air Traffic Management (CNS/ATM) modernisation roadmap for India. The roadmap will help AAI in the modernisation of the Indian National Airspace System (NAS) based on the best global and local practices. This 18-month project will be undertaken with a grant from the US Trade and Development Agency (USTDA).

Hi-tech air traffic command centre starts ops in Delhi

June: The New Air Traffic Flow Management Control and Command Centre (ATFM-CCC) with state-of-the-art displays was operationalised at Delhi.

July 1: SpiceJet flight overshoots city runway, hits operations for 5 days

Flight SG 6237 from Jaipur, with 167 passengers onboard, overshot the Mumbai runway while landing at Mumbai amid heavy rains. It finally halted in a muddy area, paralysing operations at the country’s second busiest airport for five days. Operations at Mumbai airport, which has only one operational main runway, were shifted to the shorter and lesser efficient secondary runway. More than 250 flights were cancelled and more than 400 flights were delayed as the stuck aircraft could not be retrieved.

July 5: Government announces privatisation plan for debt-ridden Air India

In the 2019-20 budget, the government announced a privatisation plan for the national carrier, which accumulated a debt of Rs 58,351 crore, after failing to get a buyer in 2018. Although the Air India (AI) Unions have opposed the plan, the government is expected to conduct a 100% strategic sale by early next year.

July 15: Mumbai-Delhi Vistara flight diverted for 4 hours

Flight UK 944 with 153 passengers was airborne for nearly four hours during which it was first diverted to Lucknow due to bad weather in Delhi, and then to Allahabad, only to return to Lucknow. While landing at Lucknow, the pilot declared May Day (emergency) as the Airbus A320neo aircraft had only 200kg of fuel – enough for five minutes of flying — left.

August 6: Vistara kicks of int’l ops

Vistara commenced international operations and its maiden international flights to Singapore

August 15: AI becomes first Indian airline to operate flight over North Pole

AI’s Delhi-San Francisco AI 173 flights became the first Indian flight to fly over the North Pole. Though many international airlines fly over the North Pole, no international airlines operating services from India currently use the route and no Indian airlines had used it. Some international airlines flying from India to the US had used it but have since changed their route. The flight cuts flying time from 17 hours to 15.5 hours.

September 2: India’s tallest ATC unit inaugurated at Delhi airport

Delhi Air Traffic Service Complex (DATS- Complex) — the country’s tallest Air Traffic Control (ATC) unit — was inaugurated at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. This iconic infrastructure will ensure up-scaled services and systems for efficient, smooth and uninterrupted air traffic management.

October 6: Training institute aircraft crashes killing two in Hyderabad

Trainee pilots, Prakash Vishal, 21, from Delhi and Amanpreet Kaur, 20, from Punjab were killed near Hyderabad after their four-seater Cessna trainee aircraft, belonging to a flight training institute, crashed when it lost control of the radar. The trainee aircraft had taken off from Rajiv Gandhi Aviation Academy at Begumpet on a regular training sortie in inclement weather and later crashed in the fields in Sultanpur village, in Telangana.

October 15: SpiceJet becomes 1st airline to use Taxibot

SpiceJet became the first airline in the world to use a Taxibot on a Mumbai-bound aircraft with passengers on-board. Taxibot is a robot-used aircraft tractor for taxiing an aircraft from parking bay to runway and vice versa.

November: Licencing of air traffic controllers begins

After the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s audit under Universal Safety Audit Oversight Program (USOAP), the civil aviation ministry for the first time decided to licence air traffic controllers in India. The Aircraft Rules 1937 was amended on November 5, 2018

December 23: GoAir cancels flights due to crew crunch

The airline cancelled 21 flights owing to unavailability of crew on December 23 and another 20 flights the next day. The delays are expected to continue during the week as the airline is yet to solve the issue of crew-rostering. The airline did not obey the mandatory flight duty time limitations prescribed for crew members by DGCA.

Throughout the year: IndiGo, GoAir face heat over snag-hit P&W engines

The aircraft were first inducted by IndiGo in 2016. The airlines reported a number of incidents, both mid-air and on-ground, leading to grounding of these aircraft on several occasions. In October, DGCA said that the airlines must modify at least one of the two P&W 1100 series engines in aircraft if the same have clocked more than 2,900 hours of flying. A total of 29 A320neos planes were affected, of which 16 are operated by IndiGo and 13 by GoAir. On November 1, DGCA directed the airlines to replace P&W engines with modified low pressure turbines (LPTs) in all its Airbus A320neo aircraft.

FLIGHT FACTS

4.5%: The rate at which the Indian aviation market grew in 2019 as compared to 2018 when India was the fastest-growing aviation market in the world, expanding by 18%. It was only in November that the domestic aviation saw growth crossing the 10% mark

134 routes commenced from January to December 10,2019 under regional connectivity scheme

10 airports operationalized in 2019 (till December 7), of which 4 airports are underserved (airports with less than four flights a week) and 6 airports are unserved (airports with no operations)

335 routes awarded during 2019, covering 33 airports (20 unserved, 3 underserved, 10 water aerodromes)

Busiest airports under UDAN: Belgaum, Prayagraj, Kishangarh, Hubli & Jharsuguda

In-principle approval received for leasing of six airports of AAI — Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Guwahati, Thiruvananthapuram, Lucknow and Mangaluru through public private partnership (PPP).

Delta airline became the only airline to fly non-stop from Mumbai to US’s John F Kennedy airport in New York

AI also commenced the country’s first ever non-stop flight to Toronto from country’s capital

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