DGCA flouts microlight aircraft safety norms

DGCA flouts microlight aircraft safety norms

The Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is making a thorough review of the questionable processes that were followed to offer registration and airworthiness to at least 11 microlight aircraft which are being flown by individuals and used by certain companies.

According to DGCA regulations, CAR Section 2- Airworthiness Series ‘F’ part XIV, a single-seater micro light aircraft “is a fixed wing aircraft with a maximum all up weight of not exceeding 330 kg and wing area not less than 10 sq mt and which is designed to ca­rry not more than one person.”

On the other hand, a two-seater microlight aircraft is a fixed wing aircraft with a maximum all up weight “not exceeding” 450 kg, a wing area not less than 10 sq mt and designed to carry not more than two persons.

And yet, between 2002 and 2007, the DGCA classified Zen Air Ch 701 and Zen Air CH 601 as microlight aircraft and issued “permit to fly” — a document that authorises the flight of microlight aircraft — to at least 11 operators, including the Bangalore-based Agni Aero Sports Adventure, Lieutenant Colonel Kumar S Harshey, Anil R Bagalwadi,  D A Palanivelu and Sunil Subbaiah, Ranbir Singh and Udaipur-based Shikarbadi Hotel Ltd.

Nashik-based Lt Col Ha­rshey, who operates a Zenair STOL CH701, registered the aircraft in 2002, the same year the aircraft kit was put together by Agni Aero Sports Adventure Academy and sold to him. The aircraft’s registration details show that it’s all up weight as 433 kg whereas according to Zenith Aircraft Company’s specifications its gross weight is 500 kg.

Similarly, in its registration details, Shikarbadi Hotel has shown that the STOL CH 701 aircraft (registration number UL-59/2 23/03/2001) which it operates weighs 435 kg.

All of the aircraft used by these operators — STOL CH701, which were manufactured by the US-based Zenith Aircraft Company,  as per specifications given in the manufacturer’s website — have a gross weight of 500 kg, which includes the weight of fuel and the pilots. The other type of microlight aircraft that Agni Aero Sports uses—STOL CH601— weighs 480 kg. Both types of aircraft operate on single piston engines and are all categorised by the manufacturer as two-seaters.

The “maximum all up weight” of these microlight aircraft are well in excess of the maximum all up weight specified in the DGCA regulations. How were these aircraft classified as microlights overlooking the maximum all up weight of the aircraft is a mystery.

When the maximum all up weight of the aircraft exceeds 450 kg, the DGCA rule that applies is CAR 21 Issue 2, Revision 1, which has more stringent design requirements to ensure safety. Even the qualifying norms to obtain a pilot licence to fly aircraft more than 450 kg weight are more stringent than that for Micro Light Pilot Licence.

In effect, the DGCA has disregarded its own airworthiness rules and safety norms. When asked whether his subordinate officers could be behind the intentional under-weighting of the 11 aircraft, DGCA chief E K Bharat Bhushan said: “I cannot put it past them. I will ask the Director, Air Worthiness, to look into these cases.”

Other civil aviation sources wondered whether the DGCA followed safety norms for these aircraft to fly as microlights when the design stipulations and pilot qualifying norms are much lower than that for an aircraft.

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