Acquiescing to a long-pending request from Air India to allow it to use a common pool of pilots for different types of aircraft, aviation regulator DGCA has allowed a small group of its crews in the cockpit to swap between Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft on a trial basis to allow the airline to make the most of its crew at a time when it is looking at a widening pilot shortage. | Photo Credit: B. Jothi Ramalingam
Agreeing to a long-pending request from Air India to allow it to use a common pool of pilots for different types of aircraft, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has allowed a small group of crew its cockpit to swap between Boeing 777 and 787 aircraft on a trial basis to enable the airline to use its crew efficiently during a widening pilot shortage.
However, the pilot fraternity and safety experts have emphasized the need to exercise extreme caution while allowing flexibility in crew use, and calling for strict, third-party oversight of the exercise.
In a letter to Air India on March 3, aviation regulator DGCA authorized mixed fleet trial operations, identifying eight pilot examiners (those who certify other pilots) to be part of phase 1 of the trial. Pilots, some of whom fly Boeing 777s and others Boeing 787s, will undergo ground and simulator training for the change from one type to another. Subsequently, they will be able to fly at least 150 hours in the new type, including at least 10 landings.
“This exercise will enable us to collect empirical data and decide on the future course of action on test scaling up,” said a senior DGCA official on condition of anonymity. The official added that 16 countries around the world allow the exchange of pilots, but they also do so in a phased manner. “The need has been there for a long time, but such a decision involves extensive due diligence so it takes time,” the official added.
In an internal message to Air India employees, the airline’s CEO Campbell Wilson welcomed the decision as it will allow “captains in both fleets to operate either type, broadening their experience, professional development, diversity and scope of operation, as well as according to the company more. stability and flexibility.” He said the decision will make Air India the first and only airline in India to have this approval.
Last month, Air India announced an order of 470 aircraft from Airbus and Boeing, which includes 20 Boeing 787s and 10 Boeing 777-9s. This means the airline now needs “7,000-8,000” pilots over the next 10 years in what some inside the airline described as a “nightmare” situation as the airline has seen several cancellations long-haul flights to the US due to current crew shortages. . The airline’s CEO acknowledged this and said efforts to restore the aircraft’s damage led to a mismatch.
Caution is required
Mohan Ranganathan, aviation safety expert and former Boeing 737 instructor pilot, called for the need for caution. “The commercial interests of the airline should not drive regulatory decisions,” he said The Hindu.
On October 12, 1976, Captain KD Gupta, who was then Operations Manager at Indian Airlines in Mumbai, flew a Boeing 737 from Delhi to Mumbai and after spending the rest of the day at the end of his office work had to go in to fly a Caravelle flight to Chennai due to crew unavailability. On take-off, there was an engine fire and he couldn’t shut off the fuel supply because on a Caravelle plane, the pilot pulls down the switch to shut it off, but on a Boeing plane, it’s the other way around.
“The last sentence recorded on the cockpit voice recorder was, ‘I am very tired’,” recounted Captain Ranganathan. All aboard the Caravelle plane died.
“When a pilot is tired, he will go back to old habits or remember the steps to operate the old engine he was used to,” he explained. “Therefore, if this is being done to meet the shortage of crew, the DGCA should ensure that there is an independent audit. Let us not forget that many examiners in Air India were appointed not based on ability, but because of their connections.”
Although the Boeing 787 and 777 are aircraft of the same manufacturer, they have different cockpit instruments.