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AI Express to stop full night operations

October 05, 2011 11:20 IST

AI ExpressThe directorate general of civil aviation's new rules on pilots' duty time will increase the requirement of pilots for airlines because of increase in rest periods.

However, for Air India Express, the impact is not limited to hiring more pilots.

The government carrier's low-cost arm will change flight schedules from next February because the DGCA rule places restrictions on  pilots' duty time for flights operated after midnight.

Most of AI Express' departures to the Gulf are in the late evening and night.

The DGCA's rules on flight duty time limitation for cockpit crew will come into effect from February.

For the first time, the civil aviation regulator has specified pilot duty hours when flying during the window of circadian lows.

The WOCL is the period from 2-6 am, when the human mind and body alertness is lower than at other times of the day.

Under the new rules, the total duty time of a pilot reduces by a certain margin in case he/she operates a flight during this period.

Also, the new rules have restrictions on deputing pilots on consecutive night duties.

These measures were demanded by the pilots' union, which highlighted the issue of fatigue among pilots. The fatigue  issue was also raised following the crash of the AI Express Boeing 737 at Mangalore last May.

AI Express operates 195 weekly flights, mostly from Kerala.

"Currently, our flights depart from India at 7-9 p.m. and land in local destinations before midnight. On their return, they land in India in the early morning.

"As a result, passengers in both India and the Gulf get a complete day for themselves before the flight. We will be advancing the departures of our flights from India by two to three hours, so that they return before 2 am,"' said the airline's chief operating officer, S Chandrakumar.

Flights to Dubai, Sharjah, Bahrain and Doha will have to be rescheduled, he said. Also, the airline will operate point-to-point direct flights.

Currently, the airline flies Calicut-Doha via Kochi and Bahrain; it will now not fly via Kochi and will fly direct to the Gulf.

"There will be no curtailment of schedules,'' he said. The airline has 115 commanders, including 19 expatriate pilots. It is also hiring more pilots for its expansion.

An AI pilot said: "Currently, pilots can have a duty time of 12.5 hours in a day but if a flight is not operated during the WOCL, the duty time may reduce by up to two hours."

Adding: "Currently we have duty patterns like Dubai-Trichy-Singapore or Chennai-Sinagpore-Kolkata, which take upto 9.30 hours. This leaves little room for delays or weather-related disruption."

Aneesh Phadnis in Mumbai