India’s aviation safety is under scrutiny following the discovery that a number of pilots employed by Indian airlines have falsified documentation to obtain their licences.
Ongoing investigations by the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MCA) into the licences of 4,500 pilots working with local carriers across the country have led to 13 arrests at the time of going to press.
Among them is a high-ranking official of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in Delhi, seven pilots including one who has been working for state-owned Air India for 22 years and the chief flying instructor of the Rajasthan State Flying School (RSFS).
The scrutiny was triggered when a female captain of low-cost airline IndiGo landed an Airbus A320 aircraft in Goa on 11 January with the nose wheel down first, instead of the main undercarriage. She was suspended and subsequently fired and arrested for her fake Airline Transport Pilots’ Licence (ATPL).
India’s director general for civil aviation, Bharat Bhushan,said there were clear indications of mishandling in the way she landed the plane.
Engineers grounded the aircraft after finding that the nose wheel was damaged. The aircraft was later flown to Delhi at low attitude with the landing gear down for fear that the damaged wheel might not descend correctly if it was retracted after take-off.
The seven arrested pilots are said to have submitted false results of the tests they sat for ATPL, which pilots must obtain before they can be upgraded to captain.
The chief flying instructor at RSFS had endorsed fake entries of flying hours in the log books of 14 cadet pilots. DGCA revoked the commercial pilot’s licences issued to the 14 after investigations revealed that they had logged between 50-60 hours only, far short of the mandatory 200 hours required.
The authorities have given the assurance that the 40 flying schools in the country will be investigated and the log book of every cadet pilot scrutinised.
Ministry officials declined to comment on why it took several weeks before investigations on the scandal started. Huge sums of cash changed hands for the favours rendered.
An industry observer in Mumbai told E&T that the malpractice could not have taken place without inside assistance.
“DGCA officials should be monitoring the local aviation industry for safe operations not being part of the scandal,” the observer said.
More arrests are expected as investigations progress. The rapid expansion of the aviation industry, with a growing number of low-cost airlines competing fiercely for pilots, had resulted in DGCA overlooking the verification process for pilots’ credentials.
The scandal raises questions over India’s aviation safety. Corruption is rampant in the country, and as long as officials with authority look the other way, the problem is likely to escalate.