Pilots engaged by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to carry out safety inspections on private airlines continue to retain benefits of the ones they have been hired from and even operate their flights.
These Flight Operation Inspectors (FOIs) are on a three-year contract with the aviation regulator with salaries matching commercial pilots, and the continuation of working relationships with parent airlines raises a serious conflict of interest issue.
According to documents accessed by Hindustan Times, FOIs and their family members are entitled to air tickets from their original airline during their tenure with the DGCA. The airline will also maintain their insurance, along with all benefits of seniority and promotion. Most importantly, the regulator has allowed FOIs to operate commercial flights of their respective airline to maintain “currency” of their flying licences.
An order issued by DGCA chief M Sathiyavathy says the “requirements of transport, hotel, allowances” will be met by the airline when the FOIs operate flights.
“Requirements of recurrent ground refresher, instrument rating, pilot proficiency check shall be ensured by the operator. Insurance for the FOI shall be taken care by the operator,” the order says.
The order has drawn immediate fire. “This move by the regulatory authority defeats the very purpose of the institution of a Flight Inspection Directorate. How can one expect these FOIs to be objective in their evaluations when they continue to draw benefits from their respective airlines and are dependent on them to maintain the validity of their licences?” says one official on condition of anonymity.
These FOIs, most of whom were working with one or the other Indian carrier, had been hired after the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) downgraded India’s aviation safety rating to Category II last year, citing DGCA’s lack of aviation safety oversight. The FAA restored India back to Category 1 status in April.
Before the downgrade happened, pilots taken on secondment from airlines worked as FOIs with the regulator while continuing to draw salaries from their respective airlines – a practice which had raised questions on conflict of interest too. “It appears that the earlier system was better as the FOIs were drawing salary from their parent airline. Now, they are paid salary by DGCA and also get company benefits like flying allowance – a clear conflict of interest and a probable loss to the exchequer,” said another official, who also did not wish to be named.
The DGCA doesn’t think so. “There is no conflict of interest,” DGCA chief Sathiyavathy told Hindustan Times. Asked for a clarification on whether the FOIs will not be looking after the work of their respective airlines, the DG said, “I am not giving you any clear indication. I am only saying that there will be no conflict of interest. Checks and counter-checks have been built in.”
But that’s easier said than shown. “There is a problem when a file has to go to chief or deputy FOI. Both are from Jet Airways. That is something they need to have a check and balance on. Anything of their parent airline should go to some other authority and not them. They should be made to recuse themselves from all activities related to their parent airline,” says Shakti Lumba, former head of operations at IndiGo. Air India, Jet Airways, IndiGo and SpiceJet did not have any comments.