Travellers start to shun India’s SpiceJet after safety lapses

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) – Passengers are starting to avoid SpiceJet after a series of mid-air safety failures, according to a survey, dealing a blow to the cash-strapped airline, which has been been summoned by the authorities to explain the lapses.

A survey of more than 21,000 travellers conducted by LocalCircles showed that 44 per cent are currently steering clear of India’s third-biggest airline due to safety concerns versus 21 per cent who are avoiding Air India and IndiGo, and 18 per cent for Go First. Some 37 per cent of respondents said they do not avoid any particular airline.

Losing passengers over incidents involving technical glitches would be a major setback for SpiceJet, which has relinquished its second-highest market share to Go First. Any fallout could further upset SpiceJet’s deteriorating financial health. The airline has suffered losses for the last three fiscal years and its shares have plunged 43 per cent this year, making it the worst airline stock in Asia.

SpiceJet said in a statement that its flights are “absolutely safe, and the safety of our passengers, crew and aircraft is paramount to us”.

A SpiceJet flight operating a Boeing 737 Max plane was diverted to Karachi due to an indicator light malfunction on Tuesday (July 5). Later that day, a Q400 jet was forced to make a priority landing in Mumbai after its windshield cracked.

Another SpiceJet aircraft from New Delhi on July 2 returned to the Indian capital due to smoke in the cabin.

India’s aviation regulator had declared its fleet safe after an audit last month and that such incidents do not compromise the safety and airworthiness of the airline, according to the statement.

But in a rare occurrence, the aviation regulator on Wednesday said SpiceJet failed to build “safe, efficient and reliable” services in the wake of recent issues. It has given the airline three weeks to explain why action should not be taken against it.

The incidents, though non-fatal, have led to strong criticism against SpiceJet, with some people urging the authorities to investigate the airline’s safety practices. Others are blaming the 737 Max aircraft and calling on airlines to stop operating the jets. Waning confidence in the 737 Max could be more bad news for SpiceJet because it is looking to induct at least seven of them this year, people with knowledge of the matter said last month.

According to the LocalCircles survey, 46 per cent of people believe the worsening balance sheets of Indian airlines in turn lead to inadequate maintenance of fleets, and that is the top reason behind degrading safety standards. About 18 per cent of passengers said ineffective oversight by the regulator is also a cause.