Karnataka HC notice in PIL challenging 2019 civil aviation norms concerning flight, duty time of pilots

Karnataka HC notice in PIL challenging 2019 civil aviation norms concerning flight, duty time of pilots

Meera Emmanuel

The Karnataka High Court has issued notice in a PIL challenging new Civil Aviation Norms concerning pilot flight/duty time limitations and rest periods for pilots.

On Tuesday, Chief Justice Abhay Shreeniwas Oka and Justice SR Krishna Kumar issued notice to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Director-General of Civil Aviation on the plea filed by businessman, Vinod Kumar Vyas challenging clauses 13, 16 and 4.1.2. of the Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR) 2019. Vyas has contended that,

A plain reading of the said CAR would make it manifestly clear that the DGCA has modified the rules to suit the operators alone, while completely jeopardizing the interest of the crewmembers and the passengers.”

Senior Advocate Arvind Kamath, appeared for the petitioner before the Division Bench.

As per the petition filed through Advocate Prashant Popat of ALMT Legal, the CAR 2019 dilutes rules relating to the fatigue, rest and duty time of flight crew, which were earlier prescribed in the 2011 CAR.  The petition states,

The exponential growth in the airline traffic and a corresponding ever-increasing demand for pilots has led to the Respondent authorities modifying rules relating to flight duty and time limitations in violation of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) guidelines and recommendations of the Dr. Nasim Zaidi Committee, a special committee that was constituted to examine all issues relating to flight safety, including flight duty and time limitations.” 

The petitioner has registered objection to the promulgation of the new CAR, which supersedes the 2011 CAR, in view of the contention that it disregards the scientific recommendations made by the Dr Nasim Zaidi Committee, thereby compromising on the safety of air travel. As noted in the petition,

The CAR 2011 extensively laid down flight time and flight duty period restrictions and guidelines for the operators to follow. As per Rule 44A of the Aircraft Rules, every Airline Operator is required to formulate a ‘Scheme’ on the Flight Duty Time Limitations as per the CAR. Thereafter, the operator is required to get the Scheme approved by the DGCA…

… With the large-scale expansion of operations, several operators experienced shortage of pilots. With a view to widen the pool of availability of pilots, it appears that the operators prevailed upon the DGCA to modify the CAR, by diluting the regulations relating to flight duty, rest and night operations. It further appears that, without consulting all the stakeholders and without conducting any scientific study, the DGCA has now issued a new Civil Aviation Requirement dated 24/04/2019, which is hereinafter referred to as the CAR 2019.”

In particular, the petitioner has challenged Clauses 13 and 16 of the CAR 2019.

Clause 13 concerns consecutive night operations dying the the WOCL (Window of Circadian Low) period, during with the alertness of an individual (adapted to a usual day-wake/night sleep schedule) is at its lowest. The earlier rule, under the CAR 2011, had barred operators from deploying flight crew between 12 am and 5 am (i.e. the WOCL period) for two nights consecutively. The modified rule i.e. Clause 13 of the 2019 CAR, on the other hand, dilutes this rule by providing that

Fight crew shall neither be detailed nor undertake any flight duty between period embracing 0000 to 0500 hours local time for more than two consecutive nights except once within a period of 168 hours.”

Clause 16 concerns extension of flight time and flight duty period during “unforeseen circumstances”. The petitioner has challenged the increased extension of cumulative flight time and duty period in such the event of such unforeseen circumstances under the 2019 CAR without any basis and solely at the behest of flight operators. As noted in the petition,

in the impugned Clause 16 of the CAR 2019 the DGCA has substantially increased the cumulative flight time and flight duty period. From the existing cap of maximum flight time of 3 hours and flight duty period of 6 hours on a cumulative basis for a period of 30 consecutive days, the CAR 2019 has increased it to cap of maximum flight time of 4 and 1/2 hours and flight duty period of 9 hours on a cumulative basis for a consecutive period of 28 days.”

The petitioner argues that this measure “is bound to add to the fatigue, exponentially, of the crewmembers and contribute to various hazards. This is definitely straying into the NO GO zone of the fatigue minefield of aviation.”

Additionally, the petitioner has also sought for the High Court to direct the DGCA to implement the recommendations of the Dr Nasim Zaidi Committee regarding standard allowance of 30 minutes towards post flight duties. The petitioner asserts that post-flight duties (for eg., parking, checklists, interaction with engineers, customs and immigration checks etc.)  are “an integral and inescapable part of a pilot’s duty,” He goes on to point out,

Such post flight duties consume time in the range of about 20-40 minutes. The Dr Nasim Zaidi Committee was of the opinion that the time spent on post flight duty should be considered as “flight duty time” and had accordingly recommended a standard allowance of 30 minutes towards post flight duties.”

However, Clause 4.1.2. of the 2019 CAR leaves the discretion of the standard allowance time for post flight duties to the operator. In this backdrop, the petitioner has argued,

Any reduction in the standard allowance towards the post flight duty would eat into the ‘rest’ period of the pilots. Having regard to various factors like road traffic conditions to and from the airport to residence, every minute of the rest period matters. By giving the discretion of fixing the standard allowance towards post flight duty, the impugned CAR has neglected and deliberately at that, its responsibility of ensuring appropriate measures to deal with fatigue of crewmembers, and thus compromised on aviation safety.”

The petitioner goes on to contend,

Although the purpose and object of the CAR 2019, as can be made out from its preamble, was to address fatigue of crewmembers, the aforesaid three modifications brought in by it would result in compounding the fatigue of crewmembers, rather than redress or reduce it. Pilot fatigue and the consequences are understood all over the World. Catastrophic accidents have occurred in the past as a consequence of ignoring this important component of Flight Operations.”

In view of these contentions, the petitioner has prayed that the High Court quashes the challenged clauses of the 2019 CAR, while also arguing that the same is prima facie arbitrary and unreasonable, besides being violative of the recommendations of the Dr Nasim Zaidi Committee.

There is no basis for the impugned modifications, let alone any scientific ones. The impugned modifications are made primarily to suit the commercial requirements and demands of the operators, but completely compromising the interest of the crewmembers and the flying public”,  the petition states.

[Read the Petition]

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