Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Airline regulatory body does not have a single pilot on rolls

MUMBAI: It is strange that the organization mandated to regulate the aviation sector doesn't have a single pilot on its rolls. The pilots who work with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation(DGCA) are those employed with airlines and other aviation companies and are paid by respective companies and work part time with DGCA to make up for the regulator's lack of technical experts. 

No wonder that scams which involve incompetent pilots and unscrupulous chief flight instructors take a while to be unearthed. "Nearly 62 out of the 265 permanent personnel (does not include aircraft engineering directorate) that DGCA employs are senior officials and the rest are administrative staff, assistants, clerks, peons, etc," said an aviation source. None has a valid pilot licence. 

To compensate, DGCA appoints consultants and officials on a temporary basis. "The DGCA has 63 consultants appointed on short-term contract basis, including pilots," the source added. For airline-related issues, for instance, DGCA gets help from airline pilots. Though these pilots are members of DGCA's Flight Standard Directorate, they draw their salaries from their respective airlines. 

That this arrangement does not take care of all technical needs is clear from the recent experiences DGCA has had with its investigations. The investigation report on a May 2010 incident onboard a Dubai-Pune Air India Express flight in which the aircraft plunged several feet over the Arabian Sea is a case in point. The commander had left the cockpit to go the washroom when the aircraft pitched down and started plunging. The co-pilot had frozen at the controls. The aircraft regained its straight and level flight several seconds later after the commander took over. The DGCA report said that the aircraft's autopilot remained engaged throughout the uncontrolled descent. "But the autopilot could not have remained engaged when the aircraft started plunging. 

"Also with the amount of force applied by the commander to bring the nose back to level, the autopilot would have surely disengaged," says Captain M Ranganathan, adding that this was just one of the several flaws in the report. In the Kingfisher Airlines case where an aircraft overshot theMumbai airport runway in 2009, the DGCA investigation team drew a wrong conclusion. "It was a clear case of skidding, though the DGCA report stated another reason," says Ranganathan. Both the investigation reports were put online on its website by DGCA only to find pilots pointing out technical flaws. Both the reports were removed for amendments. 

Another department that could do with a pilot is the DGCA's Flying Training directorate. The DGCA website states that it has a senior pilot on its roll. "But the said personnel does not hold a valid pilot licence. He was formerly employed with the agriculture department of the government and so was from a different field altogether," said an aviation source. "The training imparted by flying clubs cannot be monitored as the DGCA has no permanent employee who has the technical knowledge to handle that," he adds. 

A case in point is that of the Central Examination Organization of the DGCA. It sets question papers for pilot licence exams. "Question paper for pilots are set by graduates and engineers. It is not a healthy practice," said a DGCA official.

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