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The Big Story: Clipped wings

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The Directorate General of Civil Aviation on Monday ordered the grounding of 11 Airbus A320neo aircraft for recurring mechanical problems, forcing budget carrier Indigo to cancel 47 flights on various routes.

In February 2017, the European Aviation Safety Agency issued a directive on the airworthiness of certain A320neo aircraft and put in place certain operational restrictions, including a bar on flying the aircraft if both engines have already faced glitches. Indigo and GoAir, the two carriers which use the models, grounded three planes immediately after this directive was issued.

When the media at that point questioned whether the DGCA would ground the entire Pratt & Whitney-powered Airbus A320neo planes, the regulator gave a categorical no. Preliminary findings by the European Aviation Safety Agency in February 2017 had indicated that “the modified high-pressure aft tub” in the affected engines was susceptible to in-flight shut down.

What has, however, startled many is the scale of the problem involved. In the 18-month period ending September 2017, there had been 69 instances of the engine failures in Airbus A320neo planes. Three more incidents over the last month forced the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to act, the paper said.

In contrast, the Directorate General had ordered all six of Air India’s Boeing 787 Dreamliners to be grounded in 2013 after issues of battery fire cropped up. In the case of the Airbus320neo, despite knowledge of high number of in-flight engine failures, the aircraft was allowed to run, possibly because the European Aviation Safety Agency, which is the regulator for Airbus, continued to allow operations .

These technicalities aside, the whole problem needs to be looked at from the point of view of passengers. The immediate question is if the passengers who take these flights are informed about such recurring problems. Anyone who books a flight would know that such information is never part of any document that a passenger is served. This leads to the second question of whether the Directorate General of Civil Aviation is prioritising the interests of the passengers or the airline carriers. Grounding of aircraft leads to operational problems for airline carriers and given the crowded sector in India, it has an immediate effect on prices. On Tuesday, ticket prices went up 10% following the cancellation of over 40 flights.


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