|Trouble’s in the air|
|Saturday, 07 May 2011 00:00|
Ever since commercial air travel took off, there has been a whiff of danger associated with it. But all the statistics show that, counting distances travelled, it is one of the safest modes of transportation. Great advances in technologies for flying and navigating have obviously helped. But safety is also a factor of oversight. As India mourns the loss of its second CM in as many years to a helicopter crash, the aura of regulatory uncertainty encircling these tragedies is very troubling. Accidents happen but regulation should reduce their probability. Investigations following the Andhra CM’s death revealed that (a) the crew flew the helicopter in conditions it was not cleared for, spending precious minutes poring over the flight manual in the face of crisis, and (b) the Andhra Pradesh Aviation Corporation Ltd had not been audited by DGCA for at least five years. There was also speculation about whether VIP pressure had forced a compromise in safety standards on the crew. As information about what factors caused the Arunachal CM’s accident are still emerging, it is Pawan Hans, the company whose craft the CM was flying and which saw another accident in Tawang less than two weeks earlier, that is taking a lot of flak and its services have been suspended in the Northeast. Plus, a Parliamentary Committee report has cited repeated violation of safety rules in flights involving VIPs, with the crew succumbing to pressure to fly crafts even with defects or under adverse weather conditions.
Domestic air travel has been growing fast, as has the demand for pilots and the congestion at the airports. So, DGCA really needs to up its game. Its task is complex—tracking exams, certification, licences and surveillance. And it’s being performed by a skeleton staff. Around 70% of the posts are vacant. There are only four flight safety inspectors to track a fleet of around 270 civil choppers and 130 non-scheduled flight operators. Even when an Air Safety Director is suspended because he had ‘persuaded’ an airlines to give a job to a daughter who had failed her pilot’s test, how does DGCA fill up his shoes without emptying some key ones elsewhere? It has even taken people from Pawan Hans to help check the credentials of flying schools and pilots. This is exactly the kind of talent crunch that has the potential to mess up India’s broader growth story unless it is tackled asap.