Top AirAsia India officials suspended as pilot alleges safety lapses

AirAsia India’s head of operations and head of safety were suspended for 3 months, the chief of India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation says

NEW DELHI • India’s aviation regulator suspended two senior executives at the local affiliate of AirAsia Group Bhd after a pilot alleged there were safety lapses at the airline and subsequently was fired.

AirAsia India’s head of operations, Manish Uppal and head of safety Mukesh Nema, were suspended for three months, Arun Kumar, chief of India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation, said yesterday in a text message, confirming local media reports.

In a video posted in June, that’s been viewed more than six million times on YouTube, pilot Gaurav Taneja questioned AirAsia India’s policies on sick leave, landing procedures and handling of the coronavirus. Taneja posted under the username Flying Beast and had more than 3.5 million YouTube subscribers.

They took my Pilot’s uniform away, just because I wanted to make Indian Skies safer. Satyamev Jayate @AirAsiaIndian #AirAsiaIs- Unsafe — Gaurav Taneja (@flyingbeast320) Aug 11, 2020.

AirAsia India counted sick days as mandatory break days for pilots, depriving them of the required rest before flying an aircraft, Taneja said. He alleged that the airline sets targets for pilots to land using a specific fuel-saving approach, which can be more dangerous at certain airports. AirAsia India also didn’t follow standard operating procedures related to flying during the pandemic, Taneja alleged.

A spokesperson for AirAsia India, which is 51%-owned by Tata Group, said the airline has made interim appointments to fill the two posts, in accordance with directions from the aviation regulator.

“As an airline that prioritises safety above all, we continue to engage with the authorities,” the company said in an emailed statement. The airline hadn’t responded previously to Taneja’s accusations.

Taneja’s allegations come with aviation safety under the spotlight in South Asia. In May, a Pakistan International Airlines Corp jet crashed in Karachi, killing all but two of the 99 people on board, and on Aug 7, an Air India Express Ltd flight overshot a runway in the southern Indian state of Kerala and fell down a hillside, killing at least 18 people and injuring more than 100.

Covid-19 placed unprecedented pressure on airlines around the world, with air travel virtually drying up. AirAsia’s CEO Tan Sri Dr Tony Fernandes has described the coronavirus crisis as “by far the toughest challenge” the airline has faced. Auditor Ernst & Young last month said the ability of AirAsia and its long-haul unit AirAsia X Bhd to continue as going concerns could be in “significant doubt”. — Bloomberg