Air India’s Safety Record Comes Under Fire?

You may have heard that Air India is the 3rd most dangerous carrier in the world. Major news organizations have been publicizing this idea greatly over the past few days.

This ranking is done by the Jet Airliner Crash Data Evaluation Centre (JACDEC), and our media, without even looking at what “evaluation” this organization actually did, has decided to widely publicize this fact to the world.

VT-EFO, the aircraft involved in the Air India 182 terrorist attack in 1985

The methodology which JACDEC uses to declare Air India unsafe is ridiculous, fortunately for everyone expecting to fly AI. They have based Air India’s poor ranking on the fact that Air India has had 329 casualties over the past 30 years.

Now, 329 casualties is a lot. 329 people dying is like a full Boeing 747 crashing!

– Which is incidentally what happened. 27 years ago, an Air India 747-200 was on the receiving end of a terrorist attack, and everybody died.

Using this event to declare Air India unsafe is ridiculous. It’s not like Air India gets to control whether terrorists attack. Indeed, it was found that Canadian security procedures were lacking.

JACDEC rankings should be ignored, as they are not helpful at telling anything about safety. Shame on the media for propagating such logically weak claims.

 

Edit: I’ve been asked by a reader how Air India’s safety record actually is. Overall, all the airlines in India are pretty safe, and Air India is no exception. The airline has passed IATA Operational Safety Audits continuously since they were introduced a decade ago. Air India also has passed the IATA Safety Audit Program for Ground Operations, being the only airline of India to do so.

Have Indian Carriers Missed the Boat on Alliance Membership?

It has been a very turbulent few weeks for oneworld alliance. A few weeks ago, Qantas and Emirates announced a close cooperation agreement for Australia-Europe traffic. Then, earlier this week, it was announced that Etihad, Air Berlin, and Air France-KLM are entering a cooperative agreement. Air Berlin is also a oneworld member, but it appears that it, along with Etihad, are actually lining up more with SkyTeam Alliance members. Then, later on the same day, it was announced that Qatar Airways is joining oneworld alliance, in cooperation with British Airways.

What can clearly be seen from these 3 moves is that oneworld is splintering, with each of the three Gulf carriers pulling their preferred partners in different directions. It is showcasing the new paradigm which will appear over the next few years – individual carriers will closely align with other carriers which suit their needs best, instead of focusing on which carriers will suit the alliance best.

“Oneworld is secondary [for Air Berlin],” Etihad’s CEO James Hogan was quoted as saying recently. Etihad took a ~30% stake in Air Berlin some time back.  Instead, Air Berlin will focus on creating synergies and aligning networks with Etihad, Air France, and KLM, despite the fact that none of the carriers mentioned are fellow oneworld partners.

Similarly, Qantas has aggressively been pursuing a strategy of aligning with partners which are most valuable. With service to Africa, the airline has for years worked with South African Airways, despite the fact that they are in different alliances. With the new agreement with Emirates, oneworld partners will become secondary for services to Europe.

A similar phenomenon can be observed in other alliances as well. Delta Air Lines has aligned with Virgin Australia on USA-Australia sectors, despite not being alliance partners.

In every alliance, the core group of partners has gotten anti-trust immunity and agreed to lucrative joint ventures* on trans-atlantic sectors, pushing the concept of metal-neutrality. Metal neutrality is where carriers find it equally profitable for a passenger to be carried on its aircraft or its competitor’s aircraft, allowing better utilization and fleet planning. Delta Airlines operates a variety of services from the USA to Paris and Amsterdam from non-hub cities because it has a better cost profile and aircraft for those specific missions.

*An interesting read on the advantages of joint-ventures can be found here.

Star Alliance has taken joint ventures even further – United, Lufthansa Group, and All Nippon Airways all have joint ventures with each other, forming a core group of partners which strengthens the alliance and keeps it together.

But the alliance is not an imperative part of any of this – carriers are perfectly capable of creating bilateral partnerships to suit their own needs. Removing alliances is removing an unnecessary middleman which simply adds costs and complications. And as alliances get larger and more unwieldy, they will reduce in importance – carriers will focus more on their individual goals.

This splinter in oneworld is the beginning of the end of alliances as we know them…

***

While these events were happening on the other end of the globe, Civil Aviation Ministry Ajit Singh was busy drafting a letter begging for Air India to be granted entry into Star Alliance. Indeed, there were some decent points about how Lufthansa took advantage of benefits given for being partners with Air India without returning the expected favor, but it is quite honestly irrelevant at this point. The 2000s was the decade of the alliance, and Air India is desperate to get in on that action, just as it is coming to an end. And let’s not discuss Jet Airways, which has sent so many mixed signals that we have to wonder whether they will ever get around to that love affair with Lufthansa which they profess to desire.

Jet, at least, has developed some kind of strategy regarding airline partners. They are willing to partner with practically everybody, from bmi to Barista Lavazza. The carrier has thrived on the business of feeding other carriers’ operations from India, and therefore they are eager to codeshare with every airline possible – it increases the route network and potential market without Jet actually having to fund expansion.

Air India, on the other hand, has relatively few partners. Mileage in Flying Returns, the frequent flyer program, can only be accrued on two partners – Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines. The carrier has blindly pursued Star Alliance membership and all the potential partners without evaluating further possibilities. And indeed, that may be one of the reasons why Air India has such limited support from within Star Alliance – they are only (very loosely) aligned with two carriers out of a group of 28! Then, there was the proposed cooperation with Adria Airways and a scissor hub in Ljubljana which they spent far too much time considering, but I won’t go there…

One has to wonder why Jet Airways and Air India aren’t actively pursuing deeper cooperation with strategically important partners instead of sitting back and waiting for potential alliance membership to solve all their problems. Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Letter to Ajit Singh: Salary Delays at Air India

While the controversy over the suicide of the wife of a Kingfisher employee ensues, the Indian Commercial Pilots’ Union (ICPA) which represents Indian Airlines pilots has sent a letter to Minister of Civil Aviation Ajit Singh regarding the salary delays faced at Air India.

The text of the letter can be read below:

Ref No: ICPA/MAA/GS/2012/13

6th October 2012.

To:
The Hon’ble Minister of Civil Aviation
Govt. of India,
Rajiv Gandhi Bhawan,
Safdarjung  Airport
New Delhi – 110 003.
Sub:  Mounting Financial Worries.

Respected Sir,

We have come to know from media reports that the wife of an engineer employed by Kingfisher Airlines has unfortunately committed suicide due to mounting financial worries. The particular individual may have resorted to such an extreme step due to unbearable stress. Sir, we wish to draw your attention to the fact that matters at Air India are not too different from that at Kingfisher Airlines.

Our salaries and flying allowances too are pending for months and the uncertainty regarding the schedule of payments has become unbearable. In fact last year, an engineer belonging to Air India too had committed suicide due to financial worries.When the bills pile up and the credit card balance grows, things can feel down-right unbearable. Financial stress can also negatively, even severely  impact things outside of one’s wallet: one’s health, one’s performance in the job and relationships at home. An unsatisfied employee cannot keep up efficiency for long as his financial worries take over his thought process. A stressed pilot is a potential disaster in waiting.

Sir, in an interview on the 5th of Oct ’12, you have stated that  “if the employees are disgruntled then there is an issue with the safety of the  plane even if it is on ground”. We appreciate your concern towards employees who had not been paid for several months and your understanding of the fact that this directly affects the Safety of the Flight.

In this context we humbly request you to kindly intervene at the earliest and restore normalcy in our lives which unfortunately has been lacking for the past 3 years.

Thanking you,

Yours faithfully,

(CAPT.T. PRAVEEN KEERTHI)

GENERAL SECRETARY – ICPA

INDIAN COMMERCIAL PILOTS’ ASSOCIATION

UNITY     INTEGRITY     DIGNITY     SAFETY

Cc: Chairman & Managing Director, Air India Ltd, Mumbai.
The Chief Labour Commissioner (Central), Rafi Marg, New Delhi.
DGCA., Govt. of India, New Delhi.
Executive Director (Finance), Air India Ltd., Mumbai.
Executive Director (IR), Air India Ltd., New Delhi.
General Manager (Operations) In-charge Airbus Fleet, Air India Ltd., New Delhi.
Civil Aviation Secretary, Govt. of India, New Delhi.

While there has been a lot of coverage about the non-payment of salaries to Kingfisher employees, there has been little coverage of the fact that the same issues are plaguing other carriers as well. Air India’s salaries are still being delayed, while Jet Airways was delaying salaries earlier this year as well due to financial trouble. It really is sad to see the poor state which our aviation system is in.

Unfortunately for the ICPA pilots who have written this letter, it is unlikely to do much. The IPG, representing erstwhile Air India pilots, has noted that the Ministry of Civil Aviation has in fact been forcing Air India to ignore the salary issue and pay other bills instead.

Trip Report: Flying The Dream – Air India 787

This trip report is by Balagopal, an avgeek (Aviation Geek) based in Bangalore.

Introduction:

Being a die hard aviation enthusiast, it was indeed a shame that my first A380 flight was in 2011… a full 4 years after the first commercial whalejet flight!!

But with the Dreamliner I got a chance to correct that  

India’s flag carrier Air India had just taken delivery of its first 787 Dreamliner, after months of haggling and negotiations with Boeing. AI had a placed an order for 27 Dreamliners to replace its ageing fleet of A310s. The first 787 (VT-ANH) was based out of Delhi and was scheduled to do domestic runs to Bangalore and Chennai for crew familiarization.

This gave me the golden opportunity to sample the Dreamliner without the hassles of an international trip.

Booking:

Booking was done via AI‘s website. While the welcome page had a promo ad for 787 flights, there was no mention of the 787 in the flight details. Of the 4 daily flights between Bangalore and Delhi the late afternoon one had no a/c details listed while the rest were on 320/319. I called up the AI call center and the agent confirmed that the flight was on a 788.  

Booking was done online and the fare came to roughly INR 8200 (USD 160 approx).

Pre-Flight:

The second day of operations AI had subbed the 787 for a 77L due to operational reasons. This got me jittery. The only reason I was flying was to experience the Dreamliner. I called up the call center the night before and they confirmed that it was indeed still the 787 flying that sector.

I did a web check-in and the seatmap was that of the 787. I checked myself into 39A (the last row which is in a 2-3-2 config, while the rest are 3-3-3). This would help get a feel of the window seat as well make it easy to access the aisle for all the pic taking  

Row 40 is the reserved crew rest area and is not shown on the seat map.

Flight Day:

I flew to Delhi on a Kingfisher Airlines award ticket on the morning of the flight. After landing at IGI, I went to the transfer counter at the arrival level in T3, just to confirm that the Bangalore flight was still being operated by the 787.

Agent – ” No. Its 403″.

A shocked me – “What?!!..oh wait.. no I didnt mean the flight number (phew!!), the aircraft type”.

Agent – “Oh.. lemme check…. yes it is indeed 788 Dreamliner”. She then proceeded to print a new BP for me and asked if I wanted to change my seat since the last row was non-reclining (surprise surprise!!). I said i chose that because of the two seater, for which she again said it was a 3 seater all the way through. I asked her to check again and she apologized and said it was a 2 seater there.

After printing the BP, she said I need to head to the international departure since this is a widebody aircraft. Once again I had to ask her to confirm and she called up someone and sheepishly told me , it would be the Domestic gates. Not someone’s best day at work!!

Probably she was confused with all the AI international connectors that are 777 operated and depart from the international side.

I took the lift from the transfer desk upto the departure level and headed straight for security.

The now mandatory Elephant Sculpture photo at DEL

This was probably the first time that I was boarding a flight from T3 in broad daylight and it does seem a lot spacious in the day than at night!!

Air India 777-300ER on the international side

Security was very fast and I headed to the food court on level 1 for lunch. As I took the escalator, I was greeted by a sight that made real happy  AI 787 Dreamliner at Gate 32 having arrived from Chennai and being prepped for Bangalore.

Views of IGI airside:








Finally at Gate 32, I come face to face with the beauty!!

The distinctive rear section of the 787

The new 787s are not named yet. The earlier AI birds were named after Indian states (777), Rivers (310), Emperors(747-200), Tourist Spots (747-400), Mountains, Queens etc.

787, here I come!

 

Jetbridge

Welcomed aboard by flight attendant in AI uniform

The hue and atmosphere of the aircraft was very welcoming with “new plane smell” (if there is something like that!! ) and once I got into the flight, tit was almost surreal!!

Forward Economy Cabin

Thanks to the new windows of the 787 the interiors hid the fact that it was broad day light outside!! I think for most people flying the 787 for the first time, this will definitely be a wow moment!!

Aft economy cabin

Its 4 in the afternoon, Sunny and bright outside. Believe it or not!!  

My seat, 39A, with an Air India pillow

The new 787 windows. They are MASSSSSSSSSIVE!!

 

The window control at the bottom. Press up for lighter and down for darker shades

 

Difference between half shut and fully open

 

Full Shut and Full Open

 

Video of the window operations – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGD0mHGjP6k

Leg space was excellent

Audio-Video On Demand personal televisions

USB Port for charging and Coat Hook

 

AC Vent and Reading Lights

 

 

Tray Fully Open with pre-takeoff Bottle of Water served

 

Dreamliner Safety Card

Note that the exit lettering has been replaced by the new green signage along with pointing arrows. This will specifically come up during safety demonstrations:

New spacious overhead bins

Contrary to what Ms. Clueless at the transfer desk said, the last row on the 787 does recline: 

Rear Galley

Meal Carts

 

Lavatory

 

Seatbelt Sign

 

The safety demo was done manually with the crew highlighting the new exit signage

 

Before the safety demo, all window shades were brought to fully open mode by the crew and post that you cannot change it until after the a/c has reached cruising altitude. This controlled by a button on the doors for each section. This way the crew doesn’t have to go individually asking folks to open windows.

I wonder what would happen during early morning flights. Typically crew come around asking you to pull down the shades. If the crew sets it to full shut mode, you would not have any control on the window  

 

Flight Map

Flight Map

 

Full cabin

 

The take off roll was smooth and a lot less silent than the 777 or 330!!

Video of the take off roll – http://youtu.be/FUfxLMpjaGw

Indira Gandhi International from above

 

During the climb, the crew came on the PA explaining the benefits and features of the new Dreamliner Aircraft, including the lighter material, fuel efficiency and the lower cabin pressure maintained. It ended with how you can experience all that only on Air India   The crew also explained the working of the new Windows and requested all to be gentle with the window control. This was done in Hindi followed by English.

As soon as we reached our cruising altitude the seat belt signs were off and the crew sprung to action.

I managed to grab this shot as one side of the a/c still had windows in full open mode, while the other side had returned to original position. Each side is separately controlled.

The Aisle with the new Boeing interiors

The curve of the overhead bins, make the cabin appear more spacious.

The IFE on the 787 is different from the ones on other AI a/c. The Hindi section is quite comprehensive, while English and Regional languages is quite minimal. One baffling omission was that of TV series – the staple diet for most short-medium haul flights. The video features is primarily documentaries.

Good headsets..probably the best in Y class

The smell of food being being heated in the galley came wafting through the cabin. The cabin crew came around with trollies offering vegetarian and non vegetarian snacks. I opted for the non-veg.

The meal consisted of a Quiche, Grilled Paneer (Cottage Cheese), Puffs, Bread Roll and Butter, Cut Fruits and a dessert which I could not identify.

The Cabin Crew In Charge had some heated words with the crew in my section in Hindi. From what I could make out of it, he wanted the cabin to served beginning from the front, while crew started from rear. Initial teething trouble I guess.

Passengers settling down

 

The poor soul in 37K didn’t get the window he expected

 

 

Cabin lights dimmed

 

Before landing the Cabin Crew In Charge settled down in Row 40 to rest. A female crew came to him saying that they should do the demo now. I was a little surprised as to what this demo was to be!!

The crew took their demo positions and went over the new exit signage once again in both Hindi and English. I asked the crew serving our section why this was done. She told me that since the exit signage on the 787 is drastically different from other a/cs in India, it is mandatory to do this pre-landing briefing.

Crew at demo stations for “pre-landing” safety demo. A first for me.

 

Given that I was in the last row, I got a good opportunity to talk to the crew. Today’s flight was full in Economy and had only 2 empty seats up in Business Class. The second in command today was Capt. Rohit Bhasin, husband of Capt. Nivedita Bhasin – India’s first lady commander and as of now, the only lady to have piloted the Dreamliner for a commercial airline.

Just can’t get over the windows!

 

 

I asked the crew if I could take some pictures of the Business Class cabin and they graciously agreed:

 

 

Reluctantly, I bid goodbye to the Dreamliner and stepped back into Bangalore’s airport.

Overall the trip on the 787 was everything that I expected and then some more!! The Dreamliner provides AI with an excellent ammunition to target hitherto untapped markets like Central Asia, Australia and Africa as well as provide the right sized aircraft for certain long haul destinations like Vancouver or Boston. Hopefully AI will seize this opportunity and the Dreamliner becomes a turning point in Air India’s history. Wishing all the best to Air India!

Air India’s Second Dreamliner, VT-AND, Delivered

Air India’s second Dreamliner, VT-AND, was delivered yesterday. The aircraft is en route to Delhi now, via Frankfurt.

The aircraft will land in Delhi on September 19th around 17:00 IST. It will commence service to Bangalore, Kolkata, and Dubai the following week.

VT-ANH, the first Dreamliner delivered 2 weeks ago, will commence service to Bangalore and Chennai tomorrow.

NTSB Issues Urgent Recommendation Letter Regarding GEnx Engines

The National Transportation Safety Board, the aviation safety regulator in the USA, has issued an urgent recommendation letter regarding General Electric GEnx engines. These engines power Boeing’s latest models, the 747-8 and some 787s. Air India’s 787s are powered by GEnx engines.

The recommendations to the FAA:

Issue an airworthiness directive to require, before further flight, the ultrasonic inspection of the fan midshaft in all General Electric GEnx-1B and -2B engines that have not yet undergone inspection. (A-12-52) Urgent

Require operators to accomplish repetitive inspections of the fan midshaft (FMS) in all (on-wing and spare) General Electric GEnx-1B and -2B engines at a sufficiently short interval that would permit multiple inspections and the detection of a crack before it could reach critical length and the FMS fractures. (A-12-53) Urgent

These recommendations come after GEnx engines experienced major failures recently. The first was on July 28th, when an undelivered Boeing 787 aircraft (bound for Air India) experienced an engine failure in Charleston, causing a grass fire. After inspection, it was found that this failure was due to a fan midshaft fracture. In August, another 787 was found to have a similar crack in the fan midshaft.

On Tuesday, a Boeing 747-8 also had a similar failure in Shanghai. While time has not been sufficient to prepare a full report, the NTSB is concerned enough to issue these recommendations.

This is bad news for Air India, who recently took delivery of the 787. If significant engine issues present themselves, the aircraft may be grounded. The DGCA already dragged its feet on issuing safety clearance for the 787 last month, citing the same engine issues. If the DGCA were to pull the safety clearance, it would be a very big issue for Air India.

Future deliveries have also been delayed further pending clarification from engine manufacturer. The second aircraft, VT-AND, was originally to be delivered early next week.

In addition to Air India, Japan Airlines and Lufthansa operate aircraft powered by the GEnx to India on a regular basis.

Air India’s Domestic 787 Familiarization Schedule Revealed

Air India has revealed the domestic familiarization schedule for the Boeing 787 aircraft.

The routes are effective September 19th, and have been loaded into GDS and the website.

Flight No. Departure Arrival Aircraft Days
AI 439 DEL 07:00 MAA 09:40 787-8 Daily
AI 430 MAA 10:45 DEL 13:25 787-8 Daily
AI 403 DEL 16:30 BLR 19:10 787-8 Daily
AI 404 BLR 20:10 DEL 22:45 787-8 Daily

This schedule is showing through October 27th, the end of the summer schedule.

AI is expected to commence service to Australia with the 787 aircraft in the winter schedule.

Air India’s 787 VT-ANH Ready to Depart

Air India’s 787 VT-ANH will depart momentarily to Delhi, via Frankfurt.

It will arrive before 5AM at Frankfurt.

The aircraft is expected to arrive in Delhi around 5PM on Saturday, September 8th

Air India 787: Putting Together the Dreamliner

An excellent video on the production of Air India’s 787-8 Dreamliner:

Air India Takes Delivery of the Boeing 787

Boeing has put out a press release announcing that AI has finally taken delivery of its first 787, VT-ANH!

Flown by Captains AS Soman and Amitabh Singh, the aircraft will fly to Delhi tomorrow evening as Air India 170, arriving in Delhi on Saturday.

The next 4 aircraft are expected to be delivered each Thursday for the next 4 weeks.

The aircraft will  initially fly domestic routes for crew familiarization purposes, before moving to longhaul routes such as the much expected route to Sydney and Melbourne, Australia.

AI is the fifth airline to take delivery of the 787.