India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said on September 21 that it had extended restrictions on SpiceJet (SG, Delhi International) to operate only half of its approved departures until October 29, although it noted there had been a reduction in the number of safety incidents plaguing the carrier.

As previously reported, the authority ordered SpiceJet on July 27 to cut its scheduled flights by 50% for the ensuing eight weeks due to concerns over safety, but the airline insisted at the time that there would be no impact on its operations as it had already reset its operations “due to the current lean travel season.”

In its update, the DGCA wrote to the troubled low-cost carrier in a letter - as released in a tweet by the news agency Asian News International - that its latest review “has indicated that there is an appreciable reduction in number of safety incidents. However, as a matter of abundant caution the competent authority has decided that the restriction [...] shall continue to be in force til the end of the summer schedule, ie, 29.10.2022.”

The letter, signed by Maneesh Kumar, the authority’s joint director general of civil aviation, added: “Any increase in the number of departures beyond 50% of the total number of departures approved under the summer schedule 2022, during this period, shall be subject to the airline demonstrating to the satisfaction of the DGCA that it has sufficient technical support and financial resources to safely and efficiently undertake such enhanced capacity.”

At least until October 29, it concluded, it will continue to subject SpiceJet to “enhanced surveillance”.

According to the ch-aviation fleets module, out of SpiceJet’s total fleet of 79 aircraft, 30 are currently inactive.

The latest order came one day after the airline told staff it was sending 80 pilots on leave without pay for three months to cut costs, assuring it would later have enough capacity to operate a full schedule once the DGCA restriction is lifted. Sources told local media that the carrier had expected the directorate to extend its curtailment. They also said that of the 80 employees affected, 40 are B737 pilots and the other 40 operate the carrier’s fleet of DHC-8-Q400s.

“In a temporary measure to rationalise costs, SpiceJet has decided to place certain pilots on leave without pay for a period of three months. This measure, which is in line with SpiceJet’s policy of not retrenching any employee, which the airline steadfastly followed even during the peak of the Covid pandemic, will help rationalise pilot strength vis-a-vis the aircraft fleet,” the airline said in its internal memo.

It explained that while it had continued with its planned pilot induction programme in the expectation that the B737 MAX would be back in service soon, the prolonged grounding had resulted in a large number of excess pilots at SpiceJet.

“We will be inducting MAX aircraft shortly and these pilots will be back in service as the induction begins. During the LWP [leave without pay] period, pilots will remain eligible for all other employee benefits as applicable, that is all opted insurance benefits and employee leave travel,” it said.

SpiceJet operates thirteen B737-8s, eleven of which are currently active, and it has an additional 129 of the type on order.