Reports say that more than 50 flights were cancelled over the weekend. The effects of the disruptions were felt on Monday too.
Hailstorms or a shortage of pilots? What has led to the cancellation of scores of IndiGo flights? The company has maintained that it was a severe hailstorm in North India on Friday, February 7, that led to diversion of 11 flights.
"Consequently, this disrupted operations across our network the following day. As part of recovering our schedule, positioning of the crew and aircraft had to be readjusted. As a result, a number of flights were cancelled," said a spokesperson.Reports say that more than 50 flights were cancelled over the weekend. The effects of the disruptions have been felt on Monday too. Fliers and aviation geeks took to Twitter to update. One of them said:
Still recovering from the storm? Unlikely
Low loads and crew issues? Likely!
In line with prediction that the growth will be difficult on more than one count https://t.co/vInUI7o4IF— Ameya (@khabri_lal) February 11, 2019
While an airline official told Moneycontrol that "operations will normalise by noon," the company is yet to comment on the pilot shortage issue.
The change in weather did have an impact, and nearly 40 flights were diverted from the Delhi airport on February 7.
But executives and aviation experts Moneycontrol talked to said that while the turbulent weather would have impacted, the magnitude of the cancellations at IndiGo alone, may indicate something else.
"It's normal to have more than 50 cancellations because of hailstorms," said an executive from a leading airline.
The likely explanation, say experts, is the shortage of pilots that IndiGo could be facing as it expands its fleet at a rate, unseen before in the industry.
IndiGo has the most aggressive fleet expansion plan, among its Indian peers. In the third quarter of FY19, IndiGo added 19 aircraft to its fleet, which now has 208 planes.
While the airline has not disclosed how many more aircraft it will add in the fourth quarter, it may continue to expand its carrying capacity by about 35 percent.
The company is building on its dominant position in the industry, and has a market share of 41.5 percent. It has also mapped an equally ambitious international plan to add destinations.
The rapid expansion though has brought with it a HR problem.
"Every aircraft needs seven captains and seven co-pilots to be available to fly after recruitment," said an official from the airline. "Copilot upgrade to captain is a challenge and takes now up to six months," he added.
But the industry may not be prepared to supply as many pilots. "Not many pilots, especially captains are available in the industry," said a pilot from another airline.
An executive from another airline said that it is possible that pilots in IndiGo have already reached 1,000 hours of flying, the maximum limit for a year. "A pilot can't fly beyond that," he said.
While IndiGo has been mum about the issue till now, the hailstorm has inadvertently brought the issue to the fore.
While IndiGo may be the most impacted, the industry overall is facing the dilemma.
"Since some international routes have been launched by IndiGo and Spicejet, the demand has gone up. The UDAN scheme has led to new routes being launched leading to a rise in demand for pilots," said Aditya Narayan Mishra, CEO, CIEL HR Services, a recruitment firm.
On the supply side, he add, due to situation of Jet and Kingfisher, the sector has lost its sheen in attracting people. But internationally, the aviation market has improved and Indians are moving abroad for pilot jobs.“The training institutes have also seen a dip in the output and fresh talent is not very interested in pursuing the programmes. Increase in demand and supply-side crunch has led to the shortage,” he added.