Why is the aeronautical maintenance sector in great difficulty?
Slight turbulence in any plane, as it is thousands of feet above the ground, makes pilots nervous and unstable. What if there is a technical problem? Hundreds of airmen on a flight to Hyderabad recently breathed a sigh of relief after their plane landed in Karachi. Under normal circumstances, they wouldn’t have been so happy.
Amid a series of emergency landings this year, the government told parliament on August 1 that airlines had reported 478 technical issues between July 1, 2021 and June 30 this year.
The recent incidents have also forced the Directorate General of Civil Aviation or DGCA to order SpiceJet to halve its flights for eight weeks. The airline had reported a peak number of snags in recent months.
So what do these growing incidents of technical issues say? Are airlines cutting corners to stay afloat and compromising safety? The DGCA report suggests so.
The aviation regulator has found that airlines are deploying Category A licensed personnel as final authorities for aircraft certification. On July 18, he issued an order that only Aircraft Maintenance Engineers or AMEs with Category B1 and B2 licenses should do this work as they are more qualified and trained.
Engineers or technicians with a category A license perform minor line maintenance tasks according to their knowledge and experience,
While category B1 and B2 license holders receive specific type rating training from the airlines. Holders of an AME Category B license are also authorized to carry out major maintenance work, including repair, overhaul of mechanical components of heavy aircraft. Airlines generally determine the number of type-qualified engineers required at any station.
Jitendra Singh Rawat, former joint CEO of the DGCA, says airlines train very few engineers for commercial reasons. Airlines see this only as a way to meet their needs, not to establish an MRO. Major flight maintenance activities are outsourced by airlines to other countries.
Experts say the aviation regulator had adopted the European Union Safety Agency model for aircraft maintenance personnel which allowed airlines to issue a Category A license to technicians. As a practical measure and to save money, airlines have started using Category A license holders at the transit base.
Obviously, there is a need for a more well-trained workforce with category B1/B2 licenses. The DGCA claims to issue enough licenses. Between 2014 and 2022, it issued 7,232 AME licenses.
While aircraft maintenance engineers with DGCA-approved licenses are paid relatively well by industry standards, technicians at the bottom of the hierarchy say they receive a much lower amount when they enter the industry. industry as beginners. The pay scale varies from airline to airline. But it’s usually around Rs 14,000 to Rs 19,000 per month for technicians, they say. As they move up the ranks, staff are paid more than Rs 20,000 per month. Trainee technicians are not certified and do not have DGCA approved licenses. IndiGo has approximately 2,000 uncertified technicians on its payroll.
Currently, there are more than 50 AME institutes approved by the DGCA. Experts say that AME institutes only provide students with the basic knowledge needed to obtain licenses.
Airline executives recently told Business Standard that high jet fuel prices and the nascent pandemic recovery have prevented them from increasing the budget for it all.
Overall too, technicians are paid less. According to a survey by the Aviation Technician Education Council (ATEC) in the United States, the average entry-level hourly wage for a mechanic was $22.36 in 2021. Aircraft maintenance workers and pilots demand higher salaries to cope with high inflation. Recently, German carrier Lufthansa‘s ground staff, including aircraft mechanics, went on strike for higher pay of at least $358 per month.
Besides manpower, DGCA has found that there is a trend of increasing the minimum equipment list versions of aircraft, which allows the aircraft to fly for a specific period of time even if there is a minor problem.
With new aircraft being added to the airline fleet every year, the DGCA needs to step in and reconsider whether airlines can regulate well-trained workforce requirements. Airlines must also resolve their issues with employees to ensure passenger safety is not compromised.