State-owned Air India termed the aircraft grounding for maintenance a common practice on Monday, a day after one of its pilot unions alleged that as many as 19 aircraft were on ground due to lack of spares.
"It is a common practice for every airline to ground some of its aircraft for routine maintenance and checks periodically by its engineering department so that the aircraft are fit to fly in conformity to laid down standards," Air India said in a statement. Asserting that it accords "top-most priority" to safety of the aircraft in its fleet, the airline said, "Our aircraft also go for these checks without affecting our flight schedule and causing inconvenience to our passengers."
Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), which represents Air India's narrow-body fleet, had alleged on 13 August that as many as 19 aircraft, including nine Airbus A321s, were taken out of flying due to want of spares, resulting in a significant loss of revenue to the carrier besides flight cancellations.
Besides, there are also aircraft fleet swaps which result in last minute change of inventory, the ICPA said in a letter to Air India chairman and managing director Pradeep Singh Kharola on 14 August.
"Almost 23 per cent of the Air India fleet is grounded for lack of spares. To put this into perspective, aircraft worth approximately USD 3.6 billion or approximately Rs 25,000 crore (at today's list price) are lying idle in the hangars," the ICPA had said in its letter. The 19 aircraft which were on ground also included wide-body Boeing 777s, which are used for ultra-long operations, as well as B787 Dreamlines, which caters to airline's European network, it had said.
"Additionally, a significant number of flights are getting cancelled/rescheduled on a daily basis. There are also aircraft fleet swaps which result in last minute change of inventory resulting in non-optimal revenue management and utilisation," the ICPA had alleged.
Sources at the DGCA have also said that the regulator has completed a financial audit of the airline and will soon be submitting its report. The financial audit of airlines, which has been conducted in the past too, is done to assess their fiscal health and also ensure that they are not compromising on safety due to financial stress.
The audit of Air India was necessitated as the airline has been defaulting on salary payments to its employees, besides grounding a number of aircraft due to payment issues with vendors, the source had said.