The DGCA has put out a circular with guidelines on avoiding confusing call-signs by operators. Presumably this comes about after a handful of incidents where callsigns were confused. However, this move by the regulator that fails to address the real issue. Full document may be accessed at: http://dgca.nic.in/aic/AIC02_2017.pdf
Thoroughly confusing and impractical guildelines
The guidelines have a bullet list of provisions. Who is responsible, how this will be enforced and operational impacts are left open to interpretation. For instance, the first portion of the guidelines indicate:
- Not to consider same or similar flight numbers when airlines letter designators are visually similar or telephony designators are aurally confusing with respect to other airline
- Use of same digits to form a callsign is not allowed
- Alphanumeric call-signs which correspond to the last two letters of the planned aerodrome are not allowed
- Suffixing letter ‘S’,‘I’,‘O’ after numeral should not be used as it creates visual confusion to the Controllers on Radar screen/ and the Flight Progress Strip
- Flight numbers ending with ZERO (050 to 410) or FIVE (005 to 355) should not be used as it can easily be confused with assigned level or heading
- Additional flight: should suffix ‘A’ ; Delayed/Late/Diverted flight: to suffix ‘D’ ; Re-routed flight: to suffix ‘R’
- To avoid delay, same rotation flight in exceptional cases can operate a portion of the scheduled sector by suffixing ‘T’ to the original flight number.
- Four digit call-signs should only be used when no three digit callsigns are available. A four digit call-sign, if used, shall have first three numerals suffixed with an alphabet. The use of alphabet ‘A’, ‘D’, ‘R’, ‘T’, ‘I’, ‘O’, ‘S’, ‘X’ is not permitted
Compliance with these requirements is beyond the scope of understanding
If the above points were not confusing enough, the DGCA further elaborates that:
- Flights of same airline with identical last two digits not permitted within 60 minutes
- Flights of same airline with identical first two digits not permitted within 60 minutes
- Flights of same airline with identical first and last digit not permitted within 60 minutes
- Flights of same airline with identical flight numbers but in different order not permitted within 60 minutes
- Identical flight number with different carriers not permitted within 120 minutes
- Four digit flight numbers of the same airlines having three of the digits in the same order are not permitted within 120 minutes
- Three of the flight number digits identical to a three digit combination of a four digit flight number of a different airline, not permitted within 60 minutes
- Two flights of the same operator cannot operate with same call-sign within 12 hours from the same airport
Serious intervention and re-think required
While the country is aiming to be one of the top aviation markets, the DGCA seems to be on a different flight path. Guidelines such as these only complicate issues rather than streamlining processes and addressing the core issue. The core challenge is that of lack of adequate staffing of Air Traffic Controllers and training. The training is required because of the surge in volumes of air traffic movements. Yet, this issue has been overlooked and superceded by a circular.
Both Airlines and Air Traffic Controllers now have to adhere to this new set of guidelines which will complicate the operational environment – which is the exact opposite of the policy intent.
The DGCA would be well advised to hold consultations with airlines, airports and ATC at the very least prior to coming out with such regulations.
As it stands, the regulation is entirely impractical.