DGCA finds safety lapses in airline ground handling after nationwide audit

Directorate General of Civil Aviation has red-flagged ground handling agencies after a countrywide inspection found unsecured containers and foreign object debris in apron area of airports.

In August, the civil aviation regulator had initiated an audit of ground handling companies and a safety checklist too was issued to prevent accidents.

Inspections carried out at Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi, Lucknow and Thiruvanathapuram airports revealed that domestic airlines and their ground handlers are neglecting safety. One common observation at these airports was about the presence of foreign object debris in the apron. Also, containers and baggage trolleys were found unsecured. In some cases, the brakes of trolleys were found unserviceable. Containers lying loose or foreign objects are a safety hazard and can cause injuries or damage.

During one inspection in Delhi, trolleys were observed moving on fuel hydrants, which is not permitted. In another inspection, it was found that staff did not have pre-arrival checklists. In Lucknow, the inspectors found wing walkers were not available at the time of aircraft arrival. These are ground employees whose primary task is to see aircraft wingtips do not collide with other planes or vehicles. Also, the staff of the Airport Authority of India was found roaming without high-visibility jackets.

The audits covered operations of ground handlers such as Air India Air Transport Services Limited, Bhadra International, Bird Worldwide Flight Services and Celebi Aviation. Domestic airlines are allowed self-handling and their operations were checked too.

"We want to ensure safety discipline at airports. Inspections are being carried out airports across the country. The inspection findings have been shared with concerned airports and they have been advised to address the issues," said Director General of Civil Aviation Arun Kumar.

"We welcome the DGCA initiative. We take safety extremely seriously and working on to address the issues raised in inspection," a BWFS spokesperson said. "We are fully committed to a comprehensive safety management system that we adhere to and from our perspective safety is non-negotiable requisite in our business. That is the value we bring to the ground-handling ecosystem," said Murali Ramachandran, CEO of Celebi Aviation, India.

An airport official said operational constraints and an airline's on-time performance also impact performance. "At times there is very little time between an aircraft push back and the next aircraft's arrival at the bay. Some times parking bays allotments change at the last minute. While the presence of foreign objects can not be tolerated there are operational issues that need to be considered," he said.

The regulatory audit was ordered after due to a rise in ground incidents across airports. Delhi, which has the country’s busiest airport, has witnessed seven ground incidents since January.

While in two of these cases, engines of the aircraft were hit by the ground power unit, it was hit by a toilet cart in another. Mumbai has also seen such incidents recently whereby once an aircraft was hit by a ground tractor. In another incident, an aircraft was hit by a flying container during strong winds as the container was not properly tied.

Such incidents were reported in Hyderabad, Cochin, Chennai, Trichy, Rajkot as well among other airports.


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