As the accelerating growth of fleet sizes places more demand on support resources, deficiencies in line-maintenance safety procedures among Indian domestic airlines have increased the risk of serious accidents and incidents, according to the country’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). In its 2018-2022 National Aviation Safety Plan, the DGCA listed causes for errors, including a failure to follow published technical data or using unauthorized procedures, a failure by supervisors to follow maintenance instructions and recording maintenance properly, incorrect installation of hardware on aircraft and engines, performing unauthorized modification to aircraft, using untrained or uncertified personnel to perform ground support tasks, and use of improperly positioned ground support equipment.
A recent incident involving a 22-year old technician performing landing gear maintenance has highlighted the safety threat. “Inadvertently, the main landing gear hydraulic door closed and he got stuck in between the hydraulic door flaps,” confirmed an airline spokesperson to AIN. The incident came not long after another case of a technician getting sucked into the engine of an airliner in Mumbai.
While the DGCA has pledged to reduce the number of maintenance errors per 10,000 flight hours, incidents remain grossly underreported by airlines, said Vishok Mansingh, a former senior engineer with Kingfisher Airlines and CEO of Mumbai-based Vhan AeroServices. “Sometimes errors that have been reported to the DGCA are not brought into the public domain by the regulator,” he added. “It is essential they be published on a regular basis so that the industry can take cognizance of them and learn some lessons…Safety is continuous, not a post mortem.”
According to the DGCA, incidents that airlines have failed to report include incorrect assembly of aircraft parts or components found during inspection or test procedure, hot bleed air leak resulting in structural damage, defects in a part causing retirement before completion of full life, damage or deterioration (fractures, cracks, corrosion, delamination), and structural failures.
“Safety guidelines are [often] not followed due to the poor safety culture in the airlines and not checked by the regulator,” Amit Singh, former head of operations and safety at AirAsia India, told AIN. “As a result, it becomes a practice or a bad habit.”
Vistara, a joint venture between the Tata Group and Singapore Airlines (SIA) says it has adopted SIA safety management systems that the Vistara CEO directly monitors. “As a matter of policy, for instance, a Vistara technician can only work under the supervision of an aircraft maintenance engineer, after being assessed and passed on aspects such as human factors [and] understanding the safety management system,” said Vistara senior vice president of engineering SK Dash.
More airlines in India should adopt a similar commitment to safety, suggested Mansingh. “A mindset change for following rules and not taking shortcuts has to be inculcated in maintenance practices in India if we want to cut down on incidents,” he concluded.