Aero Club under probe for plane import without DGCA nod

Club says regulator changed mind when purchase was processed

Written by Ajmer Singh | New Delhi | Published: March 15, 2013 1:47:40 am

The civil aviation ministry has ordered a probe into the import of three trainer aircraft by the Aero Club of India (ACI),headed by Congress MP Capt. Satish Sharma,after it was found that the planes were not certified,the terms of reference were tweaked without the permission of regulator DGCA,and the machines were subsequently dumped.

However,even as the ministry investigates the tender process and has asked the club to produce documents related to payments made to the manufacturer of the CTLS aircraft,the DGCA has decided to amend rules to allow the registration and operation of the light sports aircraft.

ACI is the apex body of over 22 flying and gliding clubs and other aerosports organisations under the ministry,and is funded by the central government. It had placed orders for the three planes,each costing Rs 1 crore,in April 2011.

Based on complaints,it was found that the DGCA had first approved the import of the aircraft but subsequently changed its mind and withdrew permission. However,the club went ahead and got the aircraft and made payments.

“It is a matter of great concern that crores of public money was spent on procurement of uncertified trainer aircraft by ACI and that these have so far not been used for training even after two years of its import (sic),” the civil aviation ministry observed at a February 5,2013 meeting.

S N Dwivedi,the DGCA’s director of airworthiness,said the CTLS aircraft imported by ACI cannot be used for training and commercial operations. “To import and operate,the plane has to be (US govt regulations) FAR 23 certified but ACI changed the terms of reference and declared it to be FAR 23 equivalent. The import of CTLS aircraft is permitted for joy flying only,” Dwivedi told The Indian Express.

“The permission given to ACI was withdrawn,but the club still imported aircraft and released payments. This is about government funds and a serious investigation is on,” he added.

Reached for comment,Satish Sharma,who has been ACI president since 1984,said: “These aircraft were certified and DGCA had in 2010 permitted Aero Club to procure CTLS aircraft.”

His office said that the regulator had “initially permitted the import but then ‘backtracked’,so ACI couldn’t fly them since DGCA refused to issue Certificate of Airworthiness”.

On December 30,2010,DGCA had allowed ACI and Mumbai-based Academy of Carver Aviation to import CTLS aircraft. “The letter was issued but following complaints,permission was denied,both to ACI and Carver Aviation. To the best of my knowledge,Carver Aviation is not using these aircraft for training purposes and their aircraft are also grounded,” Dwivedi said.

According to documents reviewed by The Indian Express in connection with the controversy,the DGCA withdrew permission to ACI on June 8,2011,and said: “During scrutiny of documents,it is noted that the above aircraft is not eligible for issuance of certificate of airworthiness,as above aircraft is not type certified/type accepted by DGCA in accordance with rule 49.”

The ministry has now asked ACI why it procured the aircraft and paid 80 per cent of the price even after DGCA withdrew permission. Responding to the query,ACI advisor Kanu Gohain told The Indian Express that “the orders for CTLS aircraft,which have been certified by European and US agencies,were placed in April 2011,whereas DGCA withdrew permission three months later”. ACI officials said the club had paid 20 per cent of the cost in April 2011 itself and hence could not go back on its purchase.

Meanwhile,even as the ministry probes ACI,a January 2 meeting chaired by DGCA Arun Mishra directed amending aircraft rules to allow registration and operation of light sports aircraft,a move some aviation experts feel could compromise safety.

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