Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Daughter of DGCA No. 2 got licence from school with no plane

MUMBAI: They did not have even a single aircraft at their airport base, neither did they have a classroom or a hangar there, but in 2007, for some reason, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) was benevolent enough to grant Raipur-based Touchwood Aviation the approval to start flying training for Commercial Pilot License (CPL) students. 

A month after it started, Rashmi Sharan, the daughter of A K Sharan, joint director general ofDGCA and its number two man, joined the school. Back then, Sharan was the deputy director general (training and licensing), the department which grants approval to flying training organisations. A year after Rashmi got her license and moved out, the school shut down. 

The case of Touchwood Aviation is an intriguing one as it is perhaps the only flying school in Indiato ever get a Flight Training Organisation approval even before it could position an aircraft at its base. It was also allowed to function, though it did not have the mandatory classroom or hangar at its airport base. 

So what are the violations here? 

1. According to Flying Training Circular (No 2/2005) issued by DGCA on May 2, 2005, flying schools/clubs "should have a minimum of three serviceable aircraft", among other requirements, to get an approval to start flying training for CPL students. At any given point of time, if the aircraft fleet falls below three, then the approval for training CPL students will be withdrawn, it states. 

"After the circular came into effect, the DGCA inspected all 16 flying schools in India at that time and flying schools with one or two aircraft scurried to increase their fleet to three," said an aviation source adding that the norms were adhered to in the annual inspections then on. 

When Touchwood Aviation was granted the Flying Training Approval in 2007, this circular, very much in effect — as it is today — was sidelined to grant the approval fraudulently. The proof of violation appears in the hand-written inspection report, dated 24 August 2007 (TOI has a copy) which grants Flight Training Approval to Touchwood. 

It was filed by Mohan Chandran, an official with Aerodrome Standards, Mumbai, after visiting Touchwood's Raipur facility and states that the school is yet to have an aircraft positioned at its base. Said an aviation source: "I do not know of any instance in India, where a flying school got an approval to start training even before it could position the aircraft and build a hangar." 

He added: "Let alone get an approval, the DGCA officials from the flying training department will not even come to inspect the school if the hangar and aircraft are not ready. Getting an approval only comes after site inspection," he added. 

2. How did the DGCA office, find ground facilities "satisfactory", when there was none at the airport base? Apart from the above-mentioned circular, Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR), Section 7, Series D which pertains to approval of flying training instutites also states that a flying school's airport base should mandatorily have aircraft hangar, briefing room, waiting room, etc, for student use. 

But Touchwood Aviation had their office, briefing room, etc, at a place located about 10km from Raipur airport. They did not have any facility at the airport. "Students were ferried to the airport every morning and back in the evening. They would wait on open tarmac through the day for their turn to fly," said a source. 

The issue is not just of inconvenience. Having a briefing room on site is regarded as essential. For instance, before and after every flight, a student undergoes a briefing and a de-briefing session in the classroom. "In a briefing lesson, the flight to be undertaken would be discussed and instructions given so that the teacher and student do not waste time in the cockpit on lessons that can be given when on ground," said an instructor. 

"After a flight, the student is de-briefed and the mistakes and shortcomings are pointed out and instructions given to rectify them," he added. In case of Touchwood, there was no room in the airport for the de-briefing sessions, post flight. 

3. DGCA's flying training department is entrusted with the job of inspecting schools to grant/renew flying training approval. So why did the department waive all the norms for Touchwood? "Since Touchwood had not positioned any aircraft at its base or have a hangar, officials from the DGCA's flying training department refused to inspect the school," said an aviation source. 

Sharan, the then deputy director general (training and licensing), sent Chandran, an official from the aerodrome standards department in Mumbai, to do the Touchwood inspection, the source added. Based on the inspection report filed by Chandran, Touchwood was given an approval for six months, which was later renewed. 

Director General Bharat Bhushan said that he was looking into the case. Manjit Singh, owner of Touchwood Aviation, said that nine students, including Rashmi Sharan, completed their CPL from his school. It shut down in August 2009. Rashmi did her training between September 24, 2007 and October 7, 2008. 

"Airports Authority of India, the owner of Raipur airport, asked Touchwood to pay 13% of the gross turnover since the time of starting school. This made us economically unviable," Singh said about the closure of the school. He confirmed that no hangar space was allotted by AAI at Raipur airport. "All scheduled and periodic maintenance was done in the hangar at Raigarh airport in Chattisgarh," he added. 

Touchwood said that if it gets airport space at rates which are economically viable, it would start operations. But other flying school promoters will vouch that getting a DGCA approval to start a flying training organisation is not an easy task.

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