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Monthly Archives: February 2019

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Airlines re-route flights as Pakistan closes airspace

Category : News

Various airlines such as Air India, Jet Airways, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines Wednesday announced they were rerouting their flights as Pakistan closed its airspace in the wake of escalating tensions with India.

“Inbound and Outbound flights from USA and Europe for Delhi are being re-routed through Ahmedabad and Mumbai. Flights landing into India from USA and Europe are being re-routed via Dubai and Sharjah and will land into India with a delay,” Air India tweeted Wednesday evening.

The national carrier, however, added “no flights are cancelled and there will only be an increase in the flying time”.

Pakistan on Wednesday closed its airspace for commercial flights and suspended flight operations across major airports, including in Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, for an indefinite period in the wake of the escalating tensions with India.

Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority made the announcement after the director general of Inter-Services Public Relations, the military’s media arm, acknowledged the closure of Pakistan’s airspace due to the prevailing security situation.

In India, the Jet Airways sought relaxation in flight duty and rest-hour norms from the country’s aviation watchdog the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) due to the closure of the Pakistani airspace and subsequent re-routing of the West-bound flights.

The dispensation has been sought as the flights, which were earlier using the Pakistani airspace, will now have to be operated over the sea, entailing higher flying time than the regular routes, sources said.

“Due to the escalation of tension along the western border, the Pakistani airspace has been closed. In view of this, we have to reroute flights South of Pakistan FIR (flight information region) leading to increase in flight and flight duty times,” Jet Airways vice-president for operations Floyd Gracious said in a communication to the airline pilots.

An FIR refers to specified airspace where flight information and alerting services are provided. Generally, an FIR can be land and sea territory as well as any international airspace as defined under global norms.

“We have requested the DGCA for some special dispensation due to this sudden development keeping in view least discomfort to travelling guests,” he said.

Both pilots and cabin crew are governed by DGCA-mandated flight duty and time limitation (FDTL) norms, but a special dispensation allow the crew to do additional duties and night landings as well.

The Singapore Airlines said due to the airspace closure by Pakistan, two of its Singapore to London flights – SQ308 and SQ318 – will stop for re-fuelling at Dubai and Mumbai, respectively on February 27.

It said the Singapore-Frankfurt flight SQ318 will stop at Mumbai for re-fuelling on February 27 “provided it is able to arrive in Frankfurt before the airport’s curfew”.

“All other flights that overfly affected airspace will be rerouted, but are due to operate as scheduled at this point,” the airline added. Qatar Airways also stated that it was re-routing its flights due to the airspace closure.

“Qatar Airways can confirm that due to the ongoing situation on the India-Pakistan border, its flights to the following airports are currently temporarily suspended: Faisalabad, Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Peshawar and Sialkot,” the airline said. “Other flights routed over India-Pakistan aerospace may also experience delays due to rerouting around the affected area,” it said.

British Airways said it was closely monitoring the situation and its flight plans varied “frequently” depending on a number of factors. “But our highest and first priority is always the safety of our customers and crew,” it said.

Meanwhile, Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu tweeted Wednesday evening, “Reviewed the current airspace restrictions with Member (ANS), AAI in view of the current cross border situation. I assure you that we are working out modalities so that the air passengers are least inconvenienced. All stakeholders were kept informed. @AAI_Official.”

The Airports Authority of India (AAI) manages over 100 airports across the country. The AAI earlier Wednesday issued a notice to airmen (NOTAM), saying flight operations at the airports in Srinagar, Jammu, Leh, Pathankot, Amritsar, Shimla, Kangra, Kullu Manali and Pithoragarh will remain shut from February 27 to May 27.

However, the DGCA said operations at these nine airports have resumed “as of now”.

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Adani wins bids to operate 5 AAI airports

New Delhi: The ports-to-edible oil Adani Group has emerged the winner in the privatisation of five out of six airports put up by the government, outbidding a slew of national and international competitors including GMR, AMP Capital and the National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF). 

The Ahmedabad-based group won the right to upgrade and operate the airports of Lucknow, Jaipur, Thiruvananthapuram, Mangaluru and Ahmedabad by mounting aggressive bids which offered a higher payment for passenger fee to the Airports Authority of India (AAI). The Adani Group will get to manage these airports for 50 years if its offers are approved by the government. 

The bids for the Guwahati airport will be opened on Tuesday. 

Adani Enterprises emerged the highest bidder on the basis of share of revenue offered per passenger. Bids were also received from established players such as GMR Airports, Autostrade Indian Infrastructure Development Pvt Ltd, PNC Infratech Ltd, NIIF & Zurich Airport International AG, AMP Capital, I-Investment Ltd, KSIDC and Cochin International Airport. 


Keeping Airport Charges Low
The revenue per passenger model is different from the revenue share model, which had led to spike in airport charges at airports like Delhi and Mumbai. The government expects this model to keep airport charges under control. 

In November last year, the government had cleared a proposal for managing six AAI-run airports on public-private partnership (PPP) basis and received 32 technical bids from 10 companies for these airports. While Ahmedabad and Jaipur airports received seven bids each, Lucknow and Guwahati received six bids each. Mangaluru and Thiruvananthapuram received three bids each. 

While Adani Enterprises was named the highest bidder for these airports in an official statement, the government sources said that the final announcement on the winners will be made after clearance from the union cabinet. “The aviation ministry will prepare a cabinet note listing the bids received for these airports. Formal announcement will be made once the cabinet clears it, which should happen soon,” said a government official, who did not want to be identified. 

Adani Group said in a statement that it would improve infrastructure at these airports. “The Indian aviation industry is a growing sector with the government’s continuing focus on creating world-class airports. The airports at Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Lucknow, Trivandrum and Mangalore remain lifelines to their respective states that will enable us to infuse enhanced growth and give wings to the aspirations of the Indian people. We would be aiming to scale up the infrastructure to bring these facilities on par with global standards,” it said. 

Analysts said that the entry of Adani Group is a big plus for the aviation sector. 

“With the Adanis emerging the highest bidder for these five airports, the field has opened up further and we should see wider participation in the coming days. At a time when the government is looking at asset monetisation as an avenue for revenue generation and capital deployment of private sector, the success of the process augurs well for the sector,” said Jagannarayan Padmanabhan, Director and Practice lead- Transport and Logistics at CRISIL Infrastructure Advisory. 

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Indian Air Force MiG 21 Fighter jet crashes in Kashmir’s Budgam, pilots feared dead

New Delhi: An Indian Air Force Fighter jet crashed in Budgam district in Central Kashmir on Wednesday morning. Two pilots died after a MiG 21 that took off from Srinagar Airbase, crashed in an open field in Budgam this morning. The jet crashed in an open field near Garend Kalaan village in Budgam at 10.05 am, as per the report. The police have rushed to the spot.

As per the sources, the crash is the result of some technical fault in the jet. It broke into two and caught fire immediately. After the incident took palace, sorties of IAF fighter jets have been stalled from Srinagar airways and the civil aviation activities have been suspended from Srinagar airport due to security reason. Airports in Leh, Jammu, Srinagar and Pathankot are on high alert.


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Kolkata-bound GoAir Flight Faces Severe Air Turbulence, 2 Crew Members Injured

Kolkata: Two cabin crew members suffered “minor” injuries when a Kolkata-bound GoAir flight from Bhubaneswar experienced severe air turbulence on Tuesday 26/02/2019, the airline said. However, none of the passengers was hurt and the aircraft made a safe landing at Kolkata airport, it said.

The number of passengers on board the turbulence-hit aircraft was not immediately known.

“GoAir flight G8 761 operating on Bhubaneswar-Kolkata route experienced severe turbulence wherein two crew members suffered minor injuries and were administered medication at the dispensary at Kolkata airport,” a GoAir spokesperson said in the statement. For the last two days, weather has been extremely unforgiving, the airline said.

It said the flight captain and co-pilot had a successful and safe landing at the Kolkata airport. There was no damage to the aircraft and it was thoroughly checked after landing at Kolkata airport, it said adding that the aircraft was released for subsequent flights from Kolkata later.

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Vistara Chennai-Kolkata flight suffers engine snag, lands safely

New Delhi: A Vistara aircraft operating from Chennai to Kolkata on Monday, 25th Feb 2019 reportedly suffered an inflight engine failure during descend while approaching its destination. The twin-engine aircraft can land safely on one engine and this Vistara Airbus A320 also did so in Kolkata. The plane (VT-TTF) is now grounded there.

According to sources, UK-733 with almost 130 people on board had an engine failure during descent at 17,000 feet.

A Vistara spokesperson said: “We confirm that our flight UK 733 operating Chennai-Kolkata (Monday) experienced a technical malfunction in the right engine during descent. The pilots carried out the necessary procedures and proceeded to land safely at Kolkata International Airport.”

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Jet Airways pilots to stick to roster hours from March 1; operations to be hit

Mumbai: Jet Airways’ operations are likely to be hit from next month with its pilot’s union NAG deciding to adhere to the duty roster from March 1 over non-payment of salaries, union sources said Monday. Members of the National Aviator’s Guild (NAG) will not fly over and above roster hours from March 1, they said. The Jet Airways management was not immediately available for a comment on the development.

In a communique sent to pilots, NAG said 25 per cent of November salary along with 12.5% of December salary will be processed on February 26. “Since the management was unable to give any further payout commitment, a flight safety period along with black band protest will begin from March 1. A detailed mail will be sent soon by NAG,” the communique said.

Earlier in the day, Jet Airways, a listed entity, told the stock exchanges it is working out a “mutually acceptable” arrangement to ensure it becomes current on salary overdue. The airline has been delaying salaries to its pilots along with engineers and senior management since last August.

“The union had a concall with the management today evening over our salary dues. Though it said it will pay the balance 25 per cent of our November salary and another 12.5 per cent from December salary, it did not give any commitment on when will it clear the rest dues. It was not acceptable to us,” said a union source.

“Therefore, we have decided not to cooperate with the management any more. We will strictly adhere to the duty roster and will not accept the last minute changes in the schedule,” the source said.

“This will have a direct bearing on the flight operations,” he added. He, however, clarified the pilots will not ground any aircraft. The leading private airline said it is talking to its key stakeholders to resolve the issue. “We wish to state that the company is in dialogue with its key stakeholders, to enlist their full support and cooperation,” the airline had said in a clarification to the stock exchanges.

In doing so, the company is also apprising them of the challenges faced by the company, it said adding, “It is working out a mutually acceptable arrangement to ensure that the company becomes current on its salary overdue.” Later, NAG, in a statement, said, “We are now being forced to take some simple measures to alleviate the huge levels of stress.”

“We do hope that the company would take immediate steps to ensure that they address the issues that have brought this company to such a situation,” NAG said. The guild said it is well-known that the airline is going through difficult times.

“It is in public domain that Jet Airways is going through turbulent times. While all employees have been getting their salaries on time, pilots and AMEs (engineers) have been doled out part payments every once in a while and are now running several months behind on their salaries,” it said.

“Despite this, we, the pilots, have stood steadfast by the company and have maintained our flight schedules through the last few months in the hope that our support would see the brand we all helped build the airline once again,” it added.

The pilots have time and again attempted to convey to the company the degree of stress being faced by them, it said adding, “the mounting financial burden and the uncertainty regarding our careers are both contributory factors to the difficult conditions in which we have been working.”

Last week, a section of pilots had reportedly warned the airline of non-cooperation from March 1 if the management did not give clarity on salary payment by February 25. The Naresh Goyal-founded carrier has 1,600 pilots, of which over 1,100 are unionised and represented by the NAG.

Jet Airways has a debt of nearly Rs 8,000 crore and needs to make repayments of up to Rs 1,700 crore by March-end. In the three months ended December 2018, it reported its fourth consecutive quarterly net loss of Rs 732 crore.

Due to a liquidity crunch, the company has defaulted on payment of principal and interest to a consortium of domestic banks besides payments to lessors and a section of employees. 

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Fatigue factor : Passengers’ safety is at risk, as airlines face pilot crunch

AIRLINES’ STRICT SERVICE rules prohibit pilots from airing their views to the media or on online platforms. This, however, did not stop many pilots and aircrew members of IndiGo to form WhatsApp groups to vent their disgruntlement over the working conditions. Primary among their complaints is the one about a new crew utilisation software that IndiGo’s new management team had suggested. Apparently, the new flight roster system has glitches, making pilots fly longer hours and have consecutive night duties.

As per the rules on Flight Duty Time Limit (FDTL) of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, pilots are required to have a minimum 10 hours off between shifts, including an uninterrupted eight hours sleep in 24 hours. It is alleged that airlines frequently flout these rules or get relaxations from the regulator.

IndiGo’s chief operating officer Wolfgang Prock-Schauer, however, said the airline strictly adhered to the 1,000 flying hours a year mandate for pilots by the DGCA. IndiGo, which is India’s largest carrier, has a fleet of 209 aircraft flying to 67 destinations (52 domestic and 15 international). It accounted for about half of the 120 planes inducted by Indian domestic carriers in 2018, said aviation consultancy CAPA India. Hiring of pilots, however, did not match up to this aggressive expansion. IndiGo recently promoted some 700 first officers to senior first officers and a similar number of captains to trainers.

The discontent among pilots had forced IndiGo management to direct senior vice president of flight operations Ashim Mittra to talk to them. In December, after initial rounds of talks, Mittra took note of the rostering grievances and promised to set up a committee to look into the matter. Pilots allege that the process was not followed up.

IndiGo’s reputation took a beating when it had to cancel more than 700 flights in February, mostly owing to shortage of pilots. The airline is scouting for pilots all over the world and making the best of its ability to train homegrown talent. Prock-Schauer said IndiGo would recruit at least 120 senior expat pilots by June. “A large number of our pilot force would actually be retained as many were promoted as trainers. Our new simulators are also ready to train more people,” he said.

Expat pilots had earlier expressed their grouse to the airline over the high number of landings and takeoffs in a day. “As of today, IndiGo has 40 expat pilots among a total crew of 1,260. This is about 6.65 captains per aircraft, which are not bad numbers,” said Prock-Schauer. IndiGo had 93 expat pilots in December 2018, according to a written reply to a question in Parliament by Jayant Sinha, minister of state for civil aviation.

Not just IndiGo, all carriers are suffering from shortage of pilots and facing complaints about long work hours. Flying crew of Jet Airways, SpiceJet and Air India have raised their voice on the issue. “Management of fatigue of airline crew is a necessity for flight operations as stated by the global flight operations regulator International Civil Aviation Organization,” said Vivek Nair, president of the Federation of Indian Pilots, a pilots’ body. “No matter how minor an airline may think these flight duty extensions are, it could have serious consequences for everyone.”

Air India pilots’ union Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA) has made several attempts to draw the government’s attention to the guidelines allowing relaxation to the FDTL rules of the DGCA. The civil aviation ministry had initiated a process to firm up a draft amendment of the civil aviation requirement (CAR) rules in which the guidelines for assigning duty period, weekly offs, rest period, flight durations and landing numbers for pilots and cabin crew are mentioned. India, which is a signatory to the ICAO conventions, is required to have these guidelines.

Nair said the Delhi High Court had stayed the government issuing the new draft guidelines. “It is shocking to note that the government has incorporated these variations in duty times as normal under the draft rules, which is in clear defiance of the court ruling. In fact, the changes have gone beyond the variations we face, further increasing our flight time, duty time, and reducing the rest time, and hence gravely enhancing the already existing fatigue quotient,” said a letter by FIP to the DGCA, in response to comments sought on the draft CAR rules of the ministry.

K. Jayakumar, president of the Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG), said the new draft rules allowed consecutive night flying, while the current one did not. “The DGCA also suggests to not include the pilot’s rest time after 10-hour duty as his duty time. The issue of pilot fatigue due to time zone difference has also not been addressed, despite pointing it out to DGCA several times,” he said.

The IPG, ICPA and FIP have spoken to the ministry over these issues. “We are aware of the issues with the draft CAR,” said Pradeep Singh Kharola, civil aviation secretary. “We are not going to implement any amendment to the existing rules in a hurry.”

A committee has been set up by the civil aviation ministry to revise the draft rules and devise scientific methods to measure and deal with flight fatigue. This committee is expected to submit its recommendations to Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu by the end of February.

Experts warn that if the government does not find a solution soon, it could cause major flight-safety lapses and even result in a tragedy. “Even our air traffic operators are similarly stressed and several complaints were sent to the DGCA to revise the rules as airlines continued to start new routes in an unchecked manner,” said Yashwant Shenoy, a lawyer engaged in several litigations on flight-safety norms in Delhi and Mumbai high courts.

India’s aviation sector grew by leaps and bounds between 2014 and 2017, owing to low oil prices. With the oil prices coming down from the highs of last year, airlines are expected to do well this year. Said D. Sudhakar Reddy, president, Air Passengers’ Association of India: “One can only hope that with better profits airlines will stop pushing their crew members to work longer.”

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Tata Trusts chief, ex-CEO of TCS exit AirAsia India

Category : News

MUMBAI: R Venkataramanan, managing trustee of Tata Trusts, and S Ramadorai, former CEO of TCS, have exited budget carrier AirAsia India by selling their shares to Tata Sons. The duo has also stepped down from the board, ending their two-year association with the controversy-stricken airline.

After the share-purchase, Tata Sons, the holding company of the $111-billion Tata Group, has become the largest shareholder of AirAsia India with a 51% equity interest. The remaining 49% is held by Malaysia’s AirAsia.

Venkataramanan, who recently announced his departure from Tata Trusts, and Ramadorai held 1.5% and 0.5% stakes respectively in AirAsia India. Venkataramanan will be at Tata Trusts till March 31. 

Last year, Venkataramanan was named in a CBI investigation for trying to manipulate government policies to get an international licence for AirAsia India allegedly through corrupt means.

The changes in the shareholding structure are believed to be a function of the central investigative action and financial irregularity allegations against the airline. Additionally, AirAsia India has been hit by losses and employee exits.

Tata Sons chairman N Chandrasekaran has asked Malaysian partner AirAsia to come out with a turnaround plan with regard to route networks, airport slots, cost efficiencies and financial returns.

On Friday, BJP leader Subramanian Swamy moved the Delhi high court against granting AirAsia India permission to fly abroad. He also sought a status report from the CBI and the enforcement directorate in the investigation into the corruption charges.

AirAsia India recently applied to the aviation ministry for permission to start international flights to Southeast Asian countries. Rules require an airline to have 20 aircraft to fly overseas. AirAsia India, which started operations in 2014, meets the stated criterion.

Tata Sons has been looking to strengthen its aviation play and had evaluated the acquisition of Jet Airways recently. However, having dropped the Jet purchase plan, Tata Sons is now pursuing the organic route to scale up its airline business. Besides AirAsia India, Tata Sons has a 51% interest in premier carrier Vistara.

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Japan Airlines and Vistara enter Codeshare Partnership

Category : News

Japan Airlines (JAL) and India’s finest full-service carrier, Vistara, ON 22 Feb 2019, entered a codeshare partnership that will open up more routes between India and Tokyo than ever before. With the signing of this agreement, Vistara becomes the only codeshare partner for Japan Airlines in India. The sales of tickets open on February 26, 2019 on all channels and major GDS systems, for travel from February 28, 2019.

As part of the agreement, Japan Airlines will add its ‘JL’ designator code to approximately 32 Vistara-operated flights each day across India covering seven Indian cities, namely Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Pune. JAL and Vistara already have an interline/through check-in partnership and the two airlines had signed a Memorandum of Understanding in September 2017 ¹ to pursue commercial opportunities as partners.

22FEB Vistara Aircraft Image2.jpg
22FEB JL Aircraft Image.jpg

Commenting on this key partnership, Mr. Sanjiv Kapoor, Vistara’s Chief Strategy & Commercial Officer, said: “We’re delighted to further strengthen our partnership with Japan Airlines with this codeshare agreement, which is a step that underlines our commitment of partnering with some of the leading airlines in the world and of putting Vistara, India’s best airline, on the global map. This partnership helps us offer greater convenience and variety of choice to customers with a comprehensive network, as well as the opportunity of welcoming travellers from Japan and beyond to experience Vistara’s award-winning hospitality and service. We’re confident that our respective customers will truly enjoy the shared benefits of this partnership between two airlines committed to being amongst the best service providers on the ground and in the sky.”

“The number of passengers traveling between Japan and India has increased over time,” said Mr. Hideki Oshima, Executive Officer, Japan Airlines. “By strengthening the partnership with Vistara, we will be able to provide better network access for our mutual customers. And, we look to further cooperate with Vistara to open up additional opportunities for both airlines.”

The codeshare flights will offer convenient connections to and from a daily flight that JAL already operates to Delhi directly from Tokyo Narita. Japan Airlines and Vistara flights operate from the same terminal at Delhi (T3), making connections at the airport even more convenient and seamless.

Japan Airlines customers traveling on Vistara will enjoy complimentary meals and will be able to choose between three different cabins, including India’s only Premium Economy class. Japan Airlines Mileage Bank members can also earn miles when booking on ‘JL’ coded Vistara flights.

As the highest-rated Indian airline on Skytrax and TripAdvisor, and winner of several best-in-industry awards, Vistara has consistently raised the bar for operations and service standards in the Indian aviation market in a short span of four years. The airline today serves 22 destinations with over 800 flights a week and a fleet of 22 aircraft. Recently, Vistara finalized its aircraft order, which is a combination of purchased and leased aircraft totaling 50 from the Airbus A320neo family (including the A321neo) well as six purchased Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft.

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