AirAsia India’s decision to suspend a whistle-blower pilot has drawn severe criticism. The pilot, Gaurav Taneja, was suspended after he raised a number of objections about the airline’s culture and safety procedures. The allegations are now being investigated by India’s regulatory body, the DGCA.
The decision to suspend the pilot came after he went public with his allegations against the airline. Captain Taneja, the pilot in question, posted a 27-minute video detailing the failings of the AirAsia management in dealing with a number of safety issues. These issues ranged from taking punitive action against pilots for sick leave to forcing pilots to operate flaps at a certain level to save fuel.
The decision to suspend the whistle-blower has drawn outrage against AirAsia India. According to the pilot, the decision to go public came after multiple lapses on the airline’s part. In one instance in March, he opted to delay a flight by 40 minutes because he did not believe the AirAsia team had followed flight safety procedures. Many online have said the airline’s decision is a hasty and vindictive move, meant to threaten his pilot’s license.
According to the pilot, AirAsia India’s Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) requires that 98% of a pilot’s landings be done at Flap 3 level. Landing at Flap 3 is a procedure followed by many airlines since it can save up to 8kgs of fuel per landing, a major cost-saving for airlines.
However, at certain airports with a steep descent, landing requires full flaps. According to the pilot, this is the case at Imphal Airport, where he landed twice. However, the decision to land with full flaps instead of Flap 3, led to AirAsia pulling the pilot up for violating the SOP.
The decision to mandate Flap 3 at nearly all landings in a potential threat to passenger safety, according to Captain Taneja. Pilots may need to adapt to changing circumstances and forcing them to operate a certain way can be a threat. However, some analysts have said Flap 3 is a standard followed by many airlines isn’t a threat itself. Mandating its use to pilots could pose a risk though.
The decision to mandate Flap 3 is not the only time AirAsia has put the bottom line above safety, claims the pilot. According to him, the management of AirAsia India has repeatedly refused to take up his concerns about safety. He once opted to delay a flight where procedures weren’t followed, albeit without explaining which procedures were missed, and then refused another day, citing safety risks. He even goes on to claim that AirAsia India threatened to blemish his personal flight record, by requesting an extra physical check.
The DGCA has since taken up these allegations and will investigate the airline’s procedure. However, it seems that AirAsia has taken a larger reputational hit, as social media is trending with #BoycottAirAsia. AirAsia has refused to give a statement on the suspension, remaining tight-lipped about the incident. The coming weeks will likely see more unearthed about these allegations.