Two close calls on Tuesday buttress the need to redouble the focus on safety checks in the country’s aviation sector. For flyers though, the cause of worry is the fact that every third day, on an average, there was a reported irregularity by an airline pilot during the last year and the first ten months of this year. These were largely violations pertaining to breathalyser testing, flight and duty time limitations (FDTL) breaches and violations of cockpit and cabin discipline rules.
According to DGCA data, a total of 208 irregularities by pilots of various airlines was reported over the last year and in the current year 2016, alongside a total of 15 irregularities by airlines during the period. Officials indicated that in all these cases, “relevant enforcement action” has been taken against the pilots and the airlines concerned.
The bulk of the irregularities last year were related to breathalyser testing violations, with Jet Airways, Indigo and Air India reporting the highest number of cases. This year, till October 31, the bulk of reported cases involved FDTL violations, with Spice Jet logging the highest number of irregularities, alongside violations related to breathalyser testing, where Air India and Jet Airways reported the maximum number of cases. Worrying still is the fact that during the first ten months this year, a total of 38 pilots and 113 cabin crew tested alcohol-positive during the pre-flight medical examination for consumption of alcohol.
Data collated over a longer time frame — over the last three years and the first ten months of this year — showed a total of 409 safety violations by the flight crew of Scheduled Operators, Non-scheduled Operators and general aviation that were reported to the DGCA. These include deficiencies in ramp procedures, violations of PPC (Pilot Proficiency Check), non-compliance for FDTL requirements, non-compliance of pre-flight medical requirements, crew over-logging training hours and unauthorised entry into cockpit. The incidents include a recent surveillance carried out by DGCA, where it was found that one of the scheduled airline was not strictly adhering to the regulatory requirements regarding breath analyzer check as laid down in the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR).
Officials said that in cases involving crew members testing alcohol-positive, in accordance with the provisions of CAR (Section 5 Series F Part-III, Issue-III), the DGCA had suspended privileges of license of pilots and privileges of authorisation of cabin crew and the airlines have been forced to ground all these pilots and cabin crew.
The spotlight on safety comes in the wake of a January 2014 US Federal Aviation Administration (USFAA) downgrade of India’s civil aviation sector on safety oversight issues. This order was withdrawn in March 2015. The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a global body of airlines, is slated to visit India in March 2017 to review safety preparedness measures. The DGCA is also in the process of amending the age-old CAR, the rules for civil aviation operations in India.
Immediately after the downgrade, the UPA government had, at that time, proposed to replace the DGCA with a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) having full functional and financial autonomy to give the regulator more teeth. Ruling this out, in June this year, Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju, however, admitted to there being some degree of “opaqueness” in the operations of DGCA and had stressed on the need to bring in transparency in the body in the interest of passenger safety and security. A plan to make the DGCA a more “responsive” body is said to be currently in the works.
With respect to the spate of reported violations, officials indicated that the DGCA has structured procedure for surveillance and audit as per which Annual Surveillance Programme and the findings made during the surveillance/audits are followed up with concerned operator for the appropriate remedial action.
Meanwhile, the ICAO, under its Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme, is slated to conduct regular, mandatory, systematic and harmonised safety audits of all the contracting States to ensure that they are fulfilling their obligation of safety oversight under the Chicago Convention. Under the USOAP, ICAO conducts audit covering areas of legislation, organisation, airworthiness, aircraft operations, licencing, aerodromes, air navigation services and aircraft accident investigation.
ICAO had conducted an audit of India in 2015, covering areas of legislation, organisation, aerodromes, air navigation services and aircraft accident investigation, and would cover the remaining areas of airworthiness, aircraft operations and licencing during the next audit early next year.
The ICAO audits do not give any rating to a country, but instead only identify areas for which corrective action is required to be taken by the country. During the audit in 2012, ICAO raised two Significant Safety Concerns in the areas of operations and airworthiness.
As part of the changes incorporated by the DGCA in its regulations, a total of 21 posts have been created in Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) and a vacancy circular has been issued to fill up 17 Technical Posts out of the 21 to be filled up on a deputation basis.
As per the annual surveillance program, audit of the operators are carried out, recommendations emanating from such reports are followed up with the operator for implementation. The compliance of the action taken by the operator is further verified during the next audit.