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DGCA Fails Indian Aviation

How do you watch the watchmen? Or as the Roman poet Juvenal puts it, Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) downgrade of India’s air-safety rating is a rap on the knuckles, not for our airlines and airports– which compete admirably with the best of the world. But for our aviation regulator, the DGCA.

The downgrade from category 1 to 2, might restrict flights by Indian carriers into the United States, at a time when our airline industry is opening up to the world. Recent liberalization of FDI rules for investment by foreign carriers have rejuvenated the airline industry. Sadly, the watchdog has been unable to march in step.

The DGCA’s inadequacy, which was highlighted to the Indian government by the FAA on Friday, is a result of decades of neglect. For all the warnings by international agencies like the ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation), the regulator that has near-absolute control over the industry, has failed to build its own competencies.

My earliest memories of the DGCA are from the early 1990s, when dealing with them as a student pilot. They were in-charge of our examinations and certifications. Systems were very bureaucratic, like in all government agencies, but their power over the industry was absolute. I got a much closer look at this all-powerful-agency when I began my career as an aviation correspondent.

The first wave of liberalization had just begun, and private airlines had just been allowed to set up shop. The bureaucracy and backwardness in the DGCA, had to be seen to be believed. From the small government-building opposite Safdarjung airport in Delhi, the organisation controlled virtually everything that had wings (and rotors). The babus marked pilot’s examination papers, had control over aircraft imports and certified maintenance outfits. They operated from desks groaning with paper files. Also, an extraordinary number of them had children who were getting a Commercial pilots Licence.

The coming of private airlines had made them even more powerful. Documents could take ages to find. On the other hand, they could be found very quickly if the incentive was right. The new airlines like Jet Airways, East-West Airlines and Damania Airways, fell over each other to ensure they treated DGCA officers right. Those officers and Quality Control inspectors could ground an airline for dozens of reasons. And they often did. Damania Airways was grounded because a passenger misbehaved on a flight after a beer. Those were the days, when domestic airlines had permission serve alcohol. The promoter and CEO Parvez Damania, was allowed to re-start operations only after going to Delhi to appease the almighty.

Much of the control and certification is carried out through officers on secondment from the airlines it controls. DGCA needs dozens of Flight-inspectors to be able to check and certify airlines and air-crew. Many of these were sourced from the airlines. Though everyone knew this could lead to conflict of interest, senior pilots were on secondment to the DGCA for a tenure of a few years. The agency has been unable to create its own cadre of personnel.

Not that they don’t try! With the risk of downgrade imminent, the civil aviation ministry this Wednesday, approved the creation of 75 posts in the department that inspects airworthiness of planes and air-crew certification. The new posts include chief flight operation inspector, deputy chief flight operation inspectors, senior flight operations inspectors and flight operations inspectors. “These 75 posts have been created on ICAO standards and are meant for both aircraft and helicopter operations,” the civil aviation ministry said in a statement.

The government hopes that check pilots/ examiners/ instructors from Indian carriers will want to join them. The trouble is no pilot, with thousands of hours of flying experience, wants to join the DGCA. Most are at the peak of their careers, flying the biggest and most sophisticated planes in their fleet. They are usually well-paid and not on the regular taxing flying cycles. Few would want to give all this up and move. Airline executives say it is impossible to bridge this gap in a hurry. It will take years for DGCA to build up their own systems.

This year marks the 100th year of commercial airline operations in the world. Over the decades, the airline industry has become safer and more reliable. Much of this is because of the sophistication of regulatory agencies that collaborate and exchange safety information.  It is a real pity that India is unable to keep pace.

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DGCA is just an PUPPET........... It is the Ministry of Civil Aviation to think about DOWNGRADE. In last decade when new Aircraft, Airlines are coming every rule was by passed by DGCA (under pressure from MOCA). Phone from Ministry comes before Papers come to DGCA. And people had been obliged for the favors (Gohain three extensions after retirement as DG which was History in extensions given to person after retirement ). FAA was trying to Downgrade India for last 3 years but DGCA request (touching feet of FAA) and Boeing 787 deal was hitch. the condition of Aviation is worst in India. Thousands of Pilots r un employed . People was shown false dream of booming aviation .
I think it is more precise to say GoI failed Indian Aviation. CAA setup is the first step. Without CAA, it is like putting cart in front of horse. What DGCA trying to do is temporary, CAA has to do all over again. It has to autonomous and bill should include 2-3 years funding, later it can be self-funded. It should hire best CAA in the world like EASA/JCAB as consultant.
I agree with Joseph V's comments entirely. The DGCA can easily meet with their inspection staff requirements if they forget about age limits and employ just retired senior pilots and engineers from the airlines on contract on reasonable salaries. The airlines themselves are doing this, like simulator and ground instructors well into there seventies and pilots up to age 65. Only experienced people from the airlines, HAL, and the air force can do these jobs and train the young engineering graduates the DGCA will employ with zero experience.
This certainly could be one of the steps forward. The problem seems insurmountable otherwise. A senior FAA official was quoted yesterday as saying that DGCA needs to demonstrate it understands the technology behind new aircraft, and has the resources to ensure that airlines follow safe practices.
Fantastic coverage of a very sad and unjustified event. Well done,Cuckoo. More comments later' Sreeni
LIBIN ABRAHAM JACOB
Actually DGCA not only degrades the nations dignity but also toiling the students who have completed aviation courses
The Ministry of Civil Aviation today has an absolute control of ALL its so called independent subsidiaries:Airport Authority Of India, DGCA and Air India are all headed by a Joint Secretary each delegated from the Ministry. The FAA downgrade of DGCA was primarily due to short staffed Flight Operations Inspectorate,as it could never meet its strength since the minimum qualification was required to be a fleet Examiner, who are few in the industry. The airlines on the other hand could never maintain the requisite numbers of Examiners as the one's who made it to the grade never seemed to pass any more pilots through the same process, keeping the same absolute control of the fleet and their remunerations by the shortage. This has ensured shortage of pilot training and effectively kept a large fleet of Air India Express, amongst many other airlines. on ground for a while The resolution of the DGCA predicament is to set new parameters for training of pilots immediately; 50% of total pilot strength must be made Captains 30% of total Captains must be made into Training captains and atleast in the ratio of 10% each as Examiners, Instructors and Check Pilots. Surplus if any here will therefore,enable people to move to DGCA and other ventures assisting in the expansion and stable growth of the aviation industry in India. It seems FAA, CAA, and other regulatory bodies are now all keen to expatriate their Inspectors to India for assisting DGCA in meeting their audit requirements !
It will take decades to generate this kind of capacity in India! The expat inspectors will surely cost a bomb. There are sure to be cultural/adjustment issues too, like with expat CEOs in India. But looks like that is the price we may have to pay for years of negligence.
The Indian aviation industry is flush with Captains meeting technical requirements to be Training captains today. All we need is the will to mandate and expedite the clearance process to make the necessary Check pilots,Instructors & Examiners. The reason it has not happened till now is what we noted was "absolute control' The Government has to intervene to save the industry and it's face !
Just retired Test Pilots from IAF who have gone thru the Empire Test Pilots Establishment in the UK and similar ones in France, would be ideally suited for these jobs. They can be converted by the airline training establishments to fly any airline a/c in no time at all. Would the bureaucrats consider it? I guess not.
The DGCA has been roiling under ignorance, arrogance and incompetence for years. The Aircraft Act is of 1935 and the rules are more suited to the 1950s. Instead of cleaning up their own house the feudal attitudes of the DGCA will only go out to seek scapegoats from the industry operators.
Air Marshal Shashi Ramdas (Retd)
The FAA's downgradation of India's air safety rating is no great surprise. The writing on the wall has been there for years. This shameful downgradation need never have taken place if only the "netas" and "babus" in the Ministry of Civil Aviation had sat up and taken notice. There have been two main reasons for this sorry state of affairs: 1. The stranglehold the Ministry of Civil Aviation has on the DGCA, which is meant to be a strong and autonomous regulatory authority. 2. The posting of pliant IAS officers (with absolutely no knowledge of the technicalities of civil aviation) as DGCA, for the last two decades. As a result the DGCA has been made totally ineffective and has been tied down and preoccupied with handling extraneous matters which have no relevance whatsoever to air safety. A case in point is the recent "advice" (read, directive) from the DGCA, to the airlines. to accord special privileges to Members of Parliament. This is just an extension of the "lal-batti" culture that has been the bane of this country. Further, the DGCA has been hopelessly understaffed for many years, both in terms of numbers as well as quality, and has not been able to carry out most of the duties required of a regulatory authority. This has been, in part, due to the inability of the DGCA to offer the adequate remuneration to attract technically qualified engineers and pilots. The list is endless. Aviation professionals have repeatedly clamoured for an autonomous DGCA, totally independent of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. But this justifiable demand has fallen on deaf years. It is now time to clean up the system and bring back civil aviation in India to its rightful place of pride on the international stage.
Thanks for your comment Air Marshal! Agree completely about independence from the ministry of civil aviation. The DGCA does not have it, even though so many other regulators in our great country, do enjoy that independence.
CONSULTANT OFFICER
Very True..... The babus always interested in bribes not to strengthen the own department by filling up with technical experts. The consultants who worked in DGCA for more than 4years on contract basis were called off on Dec 2013, the 4years experienced consultants were replaced with the new ZERO experienced officers. DGCA could have have used the young and experienced officers to strengthen the department, but babus not all interested. No experienced head(DG) to control the department, as he is not from Aviation technical background. Sh.Charan Das, JDG always interested in tours and bribes, he never looked into his own department to check the flaws & corruptions....
True said,but people forgot the preceding technical DG under which no recruitment were carried out for more than a decade. Peoples were resigning DGCA and joining airlines for much higher remuneration.Any action on Charan Das whose daughter still work with Spice Jet.........
 
 
Cuckoo Paul
Cuckoo Paul is Senior Associate editor at Forbes India. She spends most of her time looking for interesting business stories. She is biased towards tales of dirty, old-style, brick-and-mortar companies in the oil & gas, power and heavy engineering companies.
She also looks continuously, if somewhat skeptically, over the horizon to examine clean technologies which threaten to change the old order.

Apart from refining margins, her other obsession is with things airborne. She learnt flying on a Piper Super Cub and follows commercial and general aviation keenly. She is also on the board of Childfund India, an NGO that supports about 70,000 children in the country.
 
 
 
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March 15, 2014 18:13 pm by sreenivasan
Just retired Test Pilots from IAF who have gone thru the Empire Test Pilots Establishment in the UK and similar ones in France, would be ideally suited for these jobs. They can be converted by the airline training establishments to fly any airline a/c in no time at all. Would the bureaucrats conside...
February 14, 2014 10:20 am by Raj
DGCA is just an PUPPET........... It is the Ministry of Civil Aviation to think about DOWNGRADE. In last decade when new Aircraft, Airlines are coming every rule was by passed by DGCA (under pressure from MOCA). Phone from Ministry comes before Papers come to DGCA. And people had been obliged for t...
February 13, 2014 07:29 am by Desi
I think it is more precise to say GoI failed Indian Aviation. CAA setup is the first step. Without CAA, it is like putting cart in front of horse. What DGCA trying to do is temporary, CAA has to do all over again. It has to autonomous and bill should include 2-3 years funding, later it can be sel...
February 12, 2014 13:54 pm by Cuckoo
This certainly could be one of the steps forward. The problem seems insurmountable otherwise. A senior FAA official was quoted yesterday as saying that DGCA needs to demonstrate it understands the technology behind new aircraft, and has the resources to ensure that airlines follow safe practices.
February 12, 2014 12:37 pm by Raj singh
True said,but people forgot the preceding technical DG under which no recruitment were carried out for more than a decade. Peoples were resigning DGCA and joining airlines for much higher remuneration.Any action on Charan Das whose daughter still work with Spice Jet.........