The aviation regulator is conducting inadequate safety checks on pilots because more than half of its 18 flight operation inspectors (FOI) are busy manning management positions in private airlines.
FOIs, who comprise senior pilots, are supposed to conduct checks on pilots to ensure safety standards.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGGA) is supposed to have 18 FOIs but owing to a shortage of FOIs in 2009, the aviation ministry allowed DGCA to borrow pilots employed with airlines to do the job.
The ministry had specified that the borrowed pilots could not hold management posts to ensure that they could dedicate the required hours to conduct safety checks and would not manipulate records to suit airlines.
The borrowed pilots are required to allocate four days a week for the DGCA duty.
The DGCA has ignored the ministry's instructions and currently 12 of its 18 FOIs hold management posts in private airlines.
As a result, these FOIs can spare little time for the safety checks owing to their busy schedules.
For instance, Captain Nitin Anand is the general manager (air safety) with Kingfisher Airlines and also a FOI.
As a Kingfisher employee he is responsible for the private airline's safety operations including monitoring the aircrew, engineers and doing administrative work. He is also supposed to operate a flight at least once a week to keep his aircraft type rating valid. "All this leaves hardly any time for FOI surveillance work," said a civil aviation ministry official requesting anonymity.
Accepting the violation, DGCA officials said they have few options.
"We are running the organisation with a staff strength of 120 including peons. We are short of options," said Bharat Bhushan, director general, DGCA.
The 2009 rule allowing borrowing of pilots came a few months before the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), the global air safety policy maker, was to conduct a safety audit on DGCA. Sources said that the DGCA was in a hurry to show compliance with the ICAO requirement of 18 full-time FOIs.
"At that time, most FOI positions were vacant," said a ministry source.
Air safety experts said that the violation shows that safety checks in the country are a farce. "There is a direct conflict of interest in having management pilots as FOIs," said air safety expert Captain Mohan Ranganathan.
"Neither can they do justice to the surveillance work nor their work for the private airline," he added.
Sources added that some of these pilots are misusing the DGCA position to settle scores with competitors.
According to the aviation ministry, flight operation inspectors (FOIs) cannot hold management posts in private airlines. Yet, the DGCA's list of FOIs has several management pilots. Some of these include:
Captain Nitin Anand, general manager (air safety), Kingfisher Airlines
Captain N Puri, executive vice president, Spicejet
Captain Sandeep Varma, chief pilot, Spicejet
Captain Ajay Singh, vice president (strategic affairs), Jet Airways
Captain Khaleel Anwar, chief pilot (ATR), Jet Airways