The last big manpower expansion in the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, the country’s aviation regulator, happened way back in 1991. That was when Air India and Indian Airlines were the only two domestic airlines in operation Today, while the airline industry has grown manifold — there are 12 scheduled domestic airlines, more than 600 aircraft and 3,000 pilots — the DGCA is in a dismal state: only 260 officials are managing the show across the country.
The staff shortage at DGCA is so severe that while its headquarters in Delhi and the Mumbai centre are somehow managing, its branch offices at Guwahati, Kanpur and Patiala have shut down.
“At centres like Thiruvananthapuram, Bhopal and Patna, one officer is doing the job of three persons. One air safety officer in Kolkata investigates all accidents for the whole of East and Northeast India,” said a senior DGCA official. Worse, there is no DGCA presence in Gujarat and Rajasthan at all, the source said.
As a result, 24 technically qualified officers investigate more than 600 minor incidents and accidents every year. While the number of air misses, small incidents and serious accidents is on the rise, there are not enough people to investigate the cases.
DGCA chief Kanu Gohain admitted the manpower shortage but said offices were non-functional in only a few places. “We have sent our proposals to the Civil Aviation Ministry for approval. Our staff strength is about 260 while we need more than 450 officers,” he said. Gohain said DGCA would need 800 qualified officers in the next 5-10 years.
The directorate does not even have enough staff to conduct surprise checks across the country to catch drunken pilots and cabin crew and depends on airlines to give them reports. “We have to send medical records of pilots back to the airlines because we don’t have the space to keep them. This would only give more power to the airlines,” a source said.
The Kaw committee, instituted in 2005, had found that while the number of aircraft had increased to 668 in March 2006 from 219 in 1991, the DGCA’s staff strength declined to 122 in 2006 from 133 in 1991.
Attrition has hit the DGCA hard as its technical staff is in high demand at domestic and international airlines. According to sources, about 40 senior officials have left in the last year and more resignations are in the pipeline.
The airworthiness directorate is the hardest hit. There are 122 senior officers in this department while close to 200 are required. “Many officials have joined private airlines. An official earning Rs 30,000 here gets a salary of more than Rs 1 lakh in the private sector, why wouldn’t they leave?” the official said.
Pilot licensing is another key function of DGCA. But lack of manpower and inadequate computerisation means it takes pilots more than six months to get their licences.
Pilot examinations were supposed to be made online but that too is yet to happen.
The DGCA headquarters has a part time doctor from the Indian Air Force for medical checks. But thankfully, it has recently roped in private hospitals for the job.