DGCA investigates IndiGo pilots for using ‘guard’ frequency to criticize pay

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Around seven IndiGo pilots are currently under investigation by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation of India (DGCA) for breaching use of the aircraft emergency frequency. 

The incident took place on April 9, 2022 when the pilots allegedly used the 121.5 MHz frequency to express their dissatisfaction regarding IndiGo’s decision to only partly restore pre-pandemic salaries. The 121.5 MHz frequency, also known as the ‘guard’ frequency, is monitored by ATC and is only used by flight crew in the event of an emergency.  

According to the Business Standard, air traffic controllers (ATC) were the first to notice irregularities in pilots’ discipline while using aircraft radio communications, and immediately reported the incident to the DGCA. 

On April 13, 2022, four days after the incident, IndiGo suspended up to six pilots who were allegedly planning to implement strike action against the airline’s pay cuts, which had been implemented at the beginning of the pandemic as one of many cost-cutting measures. Some of IndiGo’s flight crew are dissatisfied with the current wage policy as, despite the airline having recovered to pre-COVID levels, pilots are still being paid reduced salaries.  

The airline reminded staff of the main principles of discipline when using aircraft radio transmissions. 

A memo sent to staff, seen by the Business Standard, stated: “Radio transmission is one of the measurable parameters of professionalism and discipline in an airline and IndiGo prided itself on being near-exemplary in this aspect. Unfortunately in the recent past, there have been acts of misuse of radio transmission which have been identified and are being suitably dealt with.” 

According to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Annex 10, the 121.5 MHz frequency “shall be used only for genuine emergency purposes”, for the handling of emergencies as well as in case of air-ground communication with aircraft failure or case of actions related to air policing, air interception and search and rescue operations.  

If the DGCA proves that flight crew members misused the frequency, they could lose their licenses and face criminal charges. 


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