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“Worse than being drunk”: Inside India’s terrifying pilot fatigue problem

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Raghav Mahobe

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Raghav Mahobe

15 reads

A slew of pilot deaths over the past year has made India’s aviation authorities sit up, take notice, and issue new guidelines meant to protect pilots and passengers. These measures, say pilots, don’t go far enough, still leaving them running on fumes.

January 30, 2024

14 MINS READ

Key Takeaways

  • The DGCA recently released revised rules on duty time limitations for flight crew to address fatigue among pilots 
  • As Indian carriers cater to the surge in air travel, safety experts and pilots say flight crew are often pushed to the brink of flying time limits 
  • Moreover, other rules meant to avoid frequent changes in schedules and publishing of rosters in advance are ambiguous and often not complied with
  • Despite higher operational costs for the airlines, better management of fatigue and addressing long-running issues are key to the healthy growth of India’s aviation industry

On January 8, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) issued revised regulations for flight duty time limitations (FDTL) for flight crew. Meant to keep a check on fatigue levels in pilots, airlines must comply with the updated rules by June 1. 

Among the key revisions are an increase in weekly rest periods for flight crew to 48 hours from the current 36 hours, stricter restrictions on maximum flight duty durations at night, a reduction in maximum landings during night operations, as well as a change in the definition of night flying period. The revised rules come on the heels of reports of multiple pilot deaths over the past year. 

In August 2022, a pilot of Indian origin died while on a flight as a passenger. The very next day, an on-duty IndiGo captain collapsed at the Nagpur airport and died shortly before he was to operate a flight. The death of an on-duty Air India pilot just three months later only added to the growing concerns about fatigue among pilots. 

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