'Our flights are like killer Bluelines'
Tuesday's plane crash in Brazil in which at least 186 people were killed has brought flight safety back into focus. And the occurrence of half a dozen incidents at different airports in the last two months has confirmed fears that Indian skies are fast becoming unsafe.
The airlines insist they take enough safeguards to operate flights as per norms set by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and that the fears are unfounded. But experienced pilots and aviation experts say the mindless growth of aviation — with no proper infrastructure and no enforcement of laws — has grossly compromised air safety norms.
"The current state of Indian aviation is just like Delhi's Blueline bus service. You allowed them to operate without enforcement by the police and they killed people on the road. You stopped them, you earned the wrath of passengers," said a senior commander on condition of anonymity as he is not authorised to speak to the press.
He said the current situation was a direct outcome of the government allowing the arbitrary import of aircraft without strengthening law enforcement agencies. "DGCA's Flight Inspection Department (FID) is as good as defunct. Once 12 senior personnel worked here to certify aircraft, pilots and conduct surprise checks. Once they left, only one person ran this department for nearly two years. It is just impossible for one flight inspector to certify and monitor over 300 aircraft," the commander said, adding that the airline lobby had bypassed several safety norms in getting their planes certified airworthy.
"It's a miracle we don't have mid-air crashes. The deregulation has caused heavy congestion in the air and Air Traffic Control (ATC) is unable to handle the pressure. Then you have the language problem of expat pilots. The shortage of pilots has prompted airlines to hire anybody. And with nobody to conduct flight safety audits, you are bound to have accidents," he added.
"The pressure is so much at the ATC tower that sometimes, it is difficult to repeat the message. Even if 15 aircraft land at an airport in an hour, ATCs communicate at least four times with each of them before they finally land," said an air traffic controller.
Within the country too, the pressure to push out pilots has led to short cuts. Pilot trainers admit that established norms are being violated to keep pace with demand. "Now a 19-year-old goes directly into a Boeing or Airbus cockpit after completing 200 hours of flying training and 45 days of a jet endorsement training programme," said Yashraj Tongia, chief flight instructor, Yash Air Flying Institute.
spoke to opined that the DGCA needed to be strengthened, both with more legislative powers, and manpower to enforce flight safety norms, including routine and surprise aircraft checks.