The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on Monday suspended operations at Redbird Flight Training Academy, one of India’s largest flight schools, across all five of its training bases in the country.
This action was taken after five accidents involving the institute’s planes in the past six months.
The DGCA announced it would conduct an audit of the academy’s maintenance practices and also proficiency checks of the institute’s flight instructors before allowing it to resume operations.
“These occurrences indicate a gap in maintenance and operational elements,” the DGCA said in a statement.
“The DGCA has accordingly suspended the operations of M/S Redbird Flight Training Academy at all their bases in the country.”
The academy, which boasts a fleet of approximately 40 aircraft and reportedly plans to add another 20 planes by the end of March next year, did not respond to queries from Business Standard until the time of going to press.
In the past week alone, two of the academy’s training aircraft crashed in Baramati near Pune.
On October 19, one person suffered minor injuries after a training aircraft experienced an engine-related snag and loss of power, leading to a crash.
In another incident on October 22, two occupants of a training aircraft sustained injuries after the plane made an emergency landing due to a loss of power.
Redbird has training bases spread across India and overseas in locations, such as Baramati (Maharashtra), Lilabari (Lakhimpur, Assam), Gulbarga (Karnataka), Belagavi (Karnataka), Seoni (Madhya Pradesh), and Colombo (Sri Lanka).
This is not the first time the DGCA has cracked down on flight training academies in the country.
In March 2022, the civil aviation regulator ordered a safety audit of all 30 flying training organisations (FTOs) after two training aircraft were involved in separate non-fatal accidents.
One accident occurred in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, when the pilot of an aircraft allegedly forgot to open the landing gear.
The second plane crash-landed on the runway in Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh, last year.
In an audit completed in June last year, the DGCA found FTOs violating multiple safety regulations.
It observed that facilities at FTOs were not being maintained as per requirements — the runway surface was worn out, wind socks were torn or non-standard, and testing equipment was either not in compliance with requirements or not calibrated as required.
The regulator also found that pre-flight alcohol test regulations were not followed at multiple FTOs.
Based on these findings, it issued suspension orders to two certified flying instructors for a year, two for three months, one deputy CFI for a year, two deputy CFIs for three months, one assistant flying instructor for three months, and one student for three months.
In August of the same year, Redbird Flight Training Academy partnered with European aircraft manufacturer Airbus to provide pilot training to its students on A320 aircraft.
Under this partnership, Airbus was to deliver both theory and full flight simulator sessions for its jet orientation course (JOC) and multi-crew cockpit co-operation (MCC) to academy students.
Airbus did not respond to queries from Business Standard until the time of going to press.
In November 2022, DGCA had issued a circular instructing flight training schools to install cameras and monitor flight data.
This action was taken to enhance surveillance of these training institutes and curb malpractices that were detected during the safety audit conducted in March.
As of July 2023, India had 36 FTOs operating at 57 bases.
The government aims to promote and regulate training infrastructure for India's civil aviation sector to make the country a global flight training hub and prevent Indian cadets from seeking training at foreign academies.
The Airports Authority of India (AAI) awarded nine FTO slots at five airports -- at Belagavi (Karnataka), Jalgaon (Maharashtra), Kalaburagi (Karnataka), Khajuraho (Madhya Pradesh), and Lilabari (Assam) in 2021. In 2022, six FTO slots were awarded by the AAI at five airports -- two slots at Bhavnagar (Gujarat), and one each at Hubballi (Karnataka), Kadapa (Andhra Pradesh), Kishangarh (Rajasthan), and Salem (Tamil Nadu).