I was never scared of flying, but today, every time I step into an aircraft, I wonder whether the aircraft is in good hands and whether the pilot and the co-pilot have the required qualifications and the experience to fly us to our destination safely?
I am sure I am not the only person who thinks this way. The 'fake pilot license scam' has not only exposed huge gaps in aviation safety, but has also completely undermined consumer confidence in the regulatory framework in place today. Corruption, fraud, bogus degree certificates, false credentials, fake licenses, these are all not new in this country.
There are, for example, so many 'agencies' handing out fake motor driving licenses to 'professional drivers' that one has to really take ample precautions and do due diligence before hiring a driver for a car that you own.
Similarly, leading IT Companies have come face to face with so many cases of bogus degree certificates and false credentials submitted by employees that they now hire investigation agencies to do a thorough check on the applicants' educational qualifications and work experience, besides his or her moral character and integrity.
But when this climate of fraud extends to the civil aviation sector, one can only say that safety consciousness has touched the nadir in this country. It now comes to light that we, as air passengers, have been flown by pilots who never had the qualification nor the experience to command an aircraft, thereby putting the lives of all of us at risk. Going by the arrests of four people, including two touts and an official of the DGCA by the police, it is now clear that the fake license racket runs deep and most likely wide and across the country.
The DGCA has now revoked 14 commercial pilot licenses, but that is not enough.
Today, the very integrity of the regulator is suspected and therefore a thorough investigation is needed to identify and prosecute all such persons within the regulatory agency, whose presence will be inimical to public safety. In fact there is need for a complete overhaul of the regulatory mechanism so that safety gets its due place in the aviation sector.
Simultaneously, there should be an independent third party audit of all the commercial pilot license holders and this should be done within a month and the detailed results posted on the DGCA website for all consumers to see. There should be complete transparency in so far as the credentials of pilots are concerned.
All airlines also have a duty towards the consumers- a duty to show that the pilots that they hire are truly qualified for the job. They should also tell us, the procedure adopted by them to ensure that they have done a thorough check on the pilots that they hire. The government should also now put in place a fool-proof system that ensures that safety does not get compromised at any stage during the training, selection and hiring of pilots.
Puneet Roy: I have been reading with horror, how unqualified pilots are flying our air planes. Is there anything that we, as consumers can do?
Answer: As consumers, we have a right to safety or safe air transportation. Airlines that fail to ensure this are open to the charge of negligence and deficiency. A consumer or a consumer group can file a complaint before the consumer court or a writ petition before the Supreme Court, seeking appropriate directions to the civil aviation ministry, DGCA and the airlines, on ensuring air safety.
Consumer demand for better safety norms (and their stringent enforcement) can also force the government as well as the airlines to pay more attention to this neglected aspect.