About 180 passengers of Indigo Airlines flying from Hyderabad to Lucknow were delayed for over six hours at the Hyderabad Shamshabad Airport on Saturday. The reason? The pilot did not show up for duty. After six hours of delay, Indigo brought in a pilot who had had an early flight to catch to Doha.
The Indigo flight 6E866 was scheduled to fly from Hyderabad at 4:10 pm on Saturday but after boarding the passengers had to wait for six grueling hours inside the flight before they finally took off. The flight finally took off sometime after 9:30 pm, said an airport official.
One flight passenger was told by Indigo officials that there was no pilot to fly the aircraft. The replacement pilot who could only be identified by his first name, Abhilash, was informed that he would have to fly the Lucknow bound flight only after 4 pm in the evening. However, the replacement pilot before entering his cockpit apologised to the passengers for the delay.
In the audio clip of the pilot talking to the passengers recorded by one of the passengers, he could be heard saying, “I have an early morning flight to Doha and reporting time is early morning and I have to reach one hour and 15 minutes before boarding time…due to operational emergency the previous captain could not make it…very bad weather…after I got the call I got my luggage and came, it took me 2 hours and 15 minutes to reach and there were delays at toll gates…can’t exceed 100 km an hour on ORR….I am responsible, no one in Indigo is more responsible than me, am really sorry, there will be a delay for 15 more minutes, I will do my work calmly, I will take you guys safely.” Some of the passengers applauded in response to the pilot's apology and explanation.
TNM reached out to Indigo airlines for a comment on the pilot bailing out on the Lucknow-bound flight but got a response that blamed the delay on account of hail storms in North India on February 7, the incident, however, happened on February 9. “Due to a severe hailstorm in North India on Friday, Feb 07, 2019, 11 IndiGo flights were diverted. Consequently, this disrupted operations across our network the following day. As part of recovering our schedule, the positioning of the crew and aircraft had to be readjusted. As a result, a number of flights were cancelled. We regret the inconvenience caused to our customers.”
So why did the Indigo pilot bail out? An airport official on the condition of anonymity told TNM, “There was an issue with the Indigo crew on Saturday, as the pilot meant for the flight had filed over the stipulated regulatory time,"
FAA rules limit pilots to fly a maximum of 60 hours of flight duty per week, defined as 168 consecutive hours. “In any consecutive 28-day period, a pilot cannot exceed 290 hours, of which no more than 100 can be flight time," the rules state.
“The airline has to find a replacement for the delayed flight, this is one of the reasons for operational delays in domestic airlines,” said the official who further added that several operations were affected at the Hyderabad airport due to weather, a total of eight flights were delayed or cancelled.
Indigo has a market share of 41.5% in India’s domestic airline market according to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCAs) domestic air traffic report for December 2018. The airline also carries the largest number of passengers 576.30 lakh but also has the largest number of delays affecting a total of 76,168 passengers until 2018.
While other airlines give refunds, rescheduling, refreshments and spend out of their own pockets to facilitate their passengers for delays over 2 hours, Indigo offers only refreshments, a DGCA report suggests.