Days before Home Minister Rajnath Singh started for a two-day meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on disaster prevention and relief at Choplon Ata in Kyrgyz Republic on August 24, a bureaucratic disaster of no small measure was averted by the government.
Even as the Home Ministry readied plans for Singh’s foreign visit, it found that his official aircraft, an Embraer under the operational control of the BSF, was in no position to fly. It wasn’t a technical snag that grounded the aircraft, rather a bureaucratic one — its licence to fly was under suspension.
It was only after frenetic appeals from the Home Ministry and some “pressure from the top” that the aircraft was cleared to fly in the nick of time.
The problem began on July 14 this year when the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) de-registered BSF’s Embraer aircraft under the Aircraft Act 1934.
This was done as the aircraft, despite being registered as a civilian one, was being flown by IAF pilots, who are military personnel. This arrangement meant that IAF pilots would have to take civilian licences under the Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s (DGCA) rules. That in turn would require appearing for licence exams and passing them.
To avoid these frequent hiccups, MoCA in 2016 advised MHA to de-register the BSF aircraft as a civilian one and re-register it as a military one. Under this arrangement, IAF pilots could fly the aircraft without any trouble. As per the advice, MHA wrote to MoCA on September 9, 2016, to de-register the BSF aircraft. It processed the case with MoCA and issued a Gazette Notification for the same on July 14, 2017. However, bureaucratic delays meant that the aircraft was not immediately re-registered as a military one and was thus practically grounded, beginning July 14.
To operationalise the aircraft, MHA wrote to MoCA to exempt the aircraft under Rule 60 of the Aircraft Act, 1937. The rule gives powers to DGCA to exempt any aircraft from strictly following the Aircraft Rules under special circumstances. But MoCA, vide a letter on July 17, wrote back saying that the question of exemption did not arise as the aircraft had been de-registered.
With Singh too grounded with a broken foot, there was no immediate need for him to fly. However, as days passed and things still didn’t move, the MHA began getting jittery. By now, owing to delays in maintenance and inspection, a situation had arisen that the aircraft would not fly before October 23, 2017.
On July 25, the MHA wrote two desperate letters to MoCA and MoD. As if trying its luck with both, it requested them to allow the aircraft to fly under their respective rules. On July 25, 2017, MHA Joint Secretary (Police – II) RK Mitra wrote to Additional Secretary (MoCA) Upma Srivastava: “Transition process from DGCA regulations to military regulations was clubbed with LU-144 inspection (major inspection that would take approx 10 to 12 weeks) of Embraer aircraft which was due on 05 Aug 2017. The LU-144 inspection could not be materialised due to non-availability of slot at OEM (original equipment manufacturer). Now the OEM of Embraer aircraft has allotted slot from 23rd Oct 2017…” Mitra, therefore, requested in his letter that the only IAF pilot with the Embrarer aircraft be allowed to fly it under Rule 160 of Aircraft Rule till October 31, 2017.
The same day, he also wrote to Joint Secretary (Air) Bharat Khera in the Ministry of Defence. “IAF has since allotted the military tail number KE-3605 to BSF Embraer aircraft on 31st Jan 2017. However, the formalities associated with the de-registration under the Aircraft Act and its re-registration under IAF regulations being a transition will take some time and accordingly it is requested to kindly permit the BSF Embraer aircraft to operate under IAF rules with immediate effect,” Mitra wrote.
None of the letters, however, met with positive results. Despite an appeal for quick registration under military rules, sources said, things didn’t move as swiftly as desired. “It had to be finally expedited with a message from the top. The aircraft was finally registered as a military one days ahead of Home Minister’s foreign visit,” a home ministry official said.
A questionnaire sent to BSF regarding the developments did not elicit any response.