Pressure from employers and the fear of action by the civil aviation regulator are two main factors behind helicopter pilots opting to fly even in hostile weather, resulting in accidents.
This has been the finding of the regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
As a result, the DGCA on Friday issued a circular asking chopper pilots to stop operations in bad weather if they felt the need to do so, without bothering about the consequences of their decision.
"Keeping the safety of the helicopter and its occupants in mind, it has been decided that no punitive action would be taken against pilots who decided to abort the mission and carry out safe forced landing due to deteriorating weather provided the DGCA’s air safety directorate (is informed about them) as soon as they have taken place," read the circular.
"Pilots should not hesitate to divert or abort the mission as and when they encounter bad weather ... Such action is desirable in the interests of safety of the occupants on board the helicopter," said a senior directorate official, requesting anonymity.
This concern was first raised in the Parliamentary Standing Committee’s 169th reports on transport, tourism and culture, tabled in the Rajya Sabha in October 2011.
The report stated it had recorded instances of forced landings and take-offs of helicopters in low visibility, bad weather and even during nights.
While chopper pilots in advanced aviation economies have access to real-time weather data with doppler radars and automated weather stations, the directorate’s review found the weather data in hilly areas are usually erratic and information from local weather stations is seldom available.