55% of IndiGo domestic flights were delayed on Saturday, July 2 as a significant number of cabin crew members took sick leave, with sources in the industry saying they ostensibly went for an Air India recruitment drive.
When asked about this, Arun Kumar, who heads the aviation regulator DGCA, told PTI on Sunday, July 3, We are looking into this.
“Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has taken strong cognizance of IndiGo operations and sought a clarification/explanation behind the massive flight delays nationwide,” DGCA officials told ANI.
Many of the crew members, who opted for sick leave, are said to have lined up for the Tata Group-owned carrier’s interviews in metros such as Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Hyderabad and Bengaluru. As a result, pilots inside many IndiGo planes and passengers at terminals kept waiting for their flights to take off and a few flights had to be cancelled, said sources.
The phase-2 of Air India’s recruitment drive was conducted on Saturday, July 2 and a majority of IndiGo’s cabin crew members who took sick leave went for it, the sources in the industry added.
IndiGo, India’s largest airline, which currently operates approximately 1,600 flights –domestic and international — daily was hit by the non-availability of crew members resulting in the delayed departure of 900 flights.
According to the Ministry of Civil Aviation’s website, 45.2% of IndiGo’s domestic flights operated on time on Saturday, July 2. Nearly 30% of IndiGo flights were delayed on July 3.
In comparison, the on-time performances of Air India, SpiceJet, Vistara, Go First and AirAsia India was 77.1%, 80.4%, 86.3%, 88% and 92.3%, respectively, on Saturday, July 2.
IndiGo CEO Ronjoy Dutta on April 8 told employees through an email that raising salaries is a difficult and thorny issue but the airline will constantly review and adjust wages based on its profitability and the competitive environment.
IndiGo had on April 4 suspended a few pilots who were planning to organise a strike the next day to protest against the pay cuts that were implemented during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Tata Group took control of Air India on January 27, after successfully winning the bid for the airline in October 2021. Air India plans to buy new planes and improve its services, and it recently started a recruitment drive for fresh cabin crew members.
Air India is “clearly reorganising” itself under the “able stewardship” of the Tata Group and wants to invest in new planes to regain international passenger market share, Christian Scherer, Chief Commercial Officer of aircraft manufacturer Airbus, said on June 19 in Doha.
During the peak of the pandemic, Indigo had slashed the salaries of its pilots by as much as 30%.
On April 1 this year, the airline announced its decision to increase the salaries of pilots by 8%. It said that another hike of 6.5% will be implemented from November onwards in case there are no disruptions. However, a section of pilots remained unsatisfied and decided to organise a strike.
Domestic air passenger traffic had jumped to 1.2 crores in May 2022, marking a surge of 11% as compared to the preceding month, as per the data shared by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on June 22.
The numbers indicate that the air traffic has inched closer to the pre-pandemic level, as the domestic airlines had cumulatively ferried a total of 1.22 crore passengers in May 2019. In the past month, IndiGo’s passenger load factor increased to 81%, as against 78.7% in April 2022.
While IndiGo’s case is a one-off, airlines across the world are forced to cancel flights because of staffing issues. Carriers in Europe and the US are cancelling thousands of flights.
Lufthansa has cancelled 3,100 flights scheduled in July and August. American Airlines cancelled close to 4,500 flights, Delta Air Lines over 2,700 flights and United Airlines close to 2,000 flights according to global reports.
In London’s Heathrow airport, chaos has ensued due to massive understaffing. This included hundreds of cancelled flights as the airport can’t handle them, long queues and thousands of baggage items being untraceable.