Inept DGCA's disregard for safety norms

“The absence of an accident doesn’t mean your flight operation is safe. That’s yesterday’s thinking”
-Kevin Hiatt, President and CEO,
Flight Safety Foundation

For the past 10 years, civil aviation in India operated on the assumption that if we have no accidents, we are safe. The death of 158 passengers and crew in Mangalore in an air accident or the hull losses suffered when aircraft are written off, failed to wake them up.

‘Accidents’ were covered up as ‘incidents’ to keep the slate clean while records and documents were doctored to keep this charade going. The Regulator was a mere Facilitator, dancing the tune of the ministry and the airline operators. Passengers were put to risk and even the judiciary perhaps failed to rise to the occasion so the lives of travelling public was protected.

It took the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) of USA to bring this ill-founded euphoria down to earth. India was downgraded to Category 2 status, an ignominy we suffer because of large-scale corruption, sycophancy and blatant disregard for safety norms due to the incompetence of the regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA.) Several officials have compromised safety to facilitate their own personal gains. Political interference and commercial requirements of operators took priority over passenger safety.

The ministry questions the assessment of the FAA with a counter that India has been assessed as having a safety ranking above the rest of the world. FAA gave India a long rope. Some of the deficiencies they pointed out were made as far back as 2006. They believed that India was making an effort to improve its safety culture. Sadly, the past two years has seen the worst in safety and training standards in India. The violations of regulations and blatant safety infringements were all condoned by the DGCA.

Self - violation

Two areas that are most important to the safety of operations are overseen by the Flight Standards Directorate and the Air Safety Department. The Flight operations inspectors (FIOs) of FSD are in gross violation of DGCA’s own Civil Aviation Requirement (CAR.) They are to devote full four days for DGCA work but do a mere two days a week. They chose to be FOIs for the power they wield but they ignore their primary functions to oversee safety. Every airline and airport requires regular safety surveillance audits. Airports are in sub-standard conditions and airlines have been cutting corners in training and safety functions.

Inspections of critical airfields done by members of the Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council have revealed dangerous violations. The ministry and DGCA were alerted more than 18 months earlier. The failure of the FOIs in carrying out safety audits and also in operational safety inspection of airlines and airports was brought to the attention of civil aviation ministry. All these fell on deaf ears. ICAO’s own team, in November 2010, recommended a minimum strength of 75 FOIs, none of whom shall be management pilots. Until the FAA pointed out in September 2013, there were less than 30 and most of them were management pilots. The mockery of surveillance conducted by DGCA stood exposed.

The second most important failure of DGCA is in accident investigations. The primary objective of identifying the cause and steps to prevent a recurrence seem to be never in their minds. The failure to address this resulted in the loss of 158 lives in Mangalore besides the hull losses of several aircraft. Apportioning blame on the pilot and not taking proactive steps to prevent a recurrence seem to their only objective. A look at the DGCA website will show “Nil” accidents every year. The number of aircraft that have been written off is quite high, in proportion to the number of flights. Clueless officials form part of ministry’s Accident Investigation Bureau. The non-production of the investigation report on Turkish Airlines A-340 accident in Mumbai more than two years ago and the non-declaration of the recent Air India landing at Jaipur as an accident are examples of their incompetence.

Training is key

Safety is ensured by training. Unfortunately, DGCA has appointed several with hardly any standards. Charges galore that persons who have fudged log books, proficiency checks and mandatory simulator sessions are holding key positions. Training standards have diminished and the result is an overall drop in proficiency levels. The recent incorrect go around performed by an examiner of a private operator in London is an example of drop in standards. DGCA condoning that is a statement of our safety levels.

To regain the Category 1 status, there should be complete transparency, independence and total commitment to safety. The mindset has to change from being a facilitator to being a regulator. Our airports and facilities lack standards. Our training and safety standards are deficient. Peter’s Principle that has been the primary factor has to be replaced by professionalism and absolute safety standards. People responsible for the downgrade must be held accountable and made to pay for their folly. ‘Find out the faults and correct them proactively’ must be the motto, in the interest of passenger safety.

(The writer is an aviation safety expert)

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