Pilot gets DGCA notice for reporting late by 60 seconds and Air India woes

Lalit Shastri

civil aviationBy serving notice to an Air India pilot this past Friday accusing him of reporting late by 60 seconds on flying duty, the Director General of Civil Aviation, the regulatory body governing the safety aspects of civil aviation in India, has not come through with flying colours. Instead this one action by DGCA has invited severe criticism from those in knowledgeable circles.

Capt. R Rana of Air India, on March 13 was served a notice signed by Lalit Gupta, Joint Director General on behalf of Director General of Civil Aviation. It states that during the spot check of Air India Flights on February 26, 2015 at Delhi Airport it was found that he (Capt.Rana) had reported 44 minutes before the departure of his scheduled flight (AI 213).

air india dgcaThe DGCA notice further says that under the Operations Manual Capt. Rana was required to report 45 minutes before the scheduled departure of his flight to carry out the cockpit safety checks effectively. Since the pilot was late by 60 seconds he has been asked to show cause as to why action should not be taken against him for the violation of the rules under the Operations Manual. If Rana fails to offer his defense within the stipulated period of 15 days from the date of issue of notice “suitable action will be taken” against him the DGCA.

When those in knowledgeable circles were contacted, including senior Air India officials, They were rather baffled and amused. Many of them asked why this particular pilot has been picked up for such stringent action. A senior Air India officer reacted to the DGCA notice and said may be this is the first time that such an action has been taken by DGCA. He also went on to observe that this should be treated as an exceptional case considering the general state of efficiency in the aviation sector in the country and also the fact that the DGCA has a track-record of not responding adequately and swiftly to complaints against airline operators when they jeopardize flight safety by compromising on mandatory requirements linked with the training of pilots or induct pilots through the backdoor. Recently GoAir (Go Airlines), the low-cost Mumbai based airline, was in news on the issue of inadequate training to pilots. It was also caught up in what has been described even within the company as a major recruitment scam.

An airline functionary described the latest action by DGCA as “travesty of justice”. He described the prevailing scenario by pointing out how the pilots so often report ten minutes before take off. They ring up and say start boarding the passengers, the catering work is completed, even refueling is done and when the aircraft is ready for departure, the commander enters the scene and the aircraft takes off. This has become a practice across the country right under the nose of the enforcing authority for civil aviation, that is the DGCA.

Besides the working of the DGCA, which has come under flak, those in knowledgeable circles are also questioning the Government of India’s working at the highest level. Today the question on every Air India employee’s mind is how many more extensions the present Air India Chairman and Managing Director Rohit Nandan would get before someone else is appointed in his place to bring the national carrier out of the red.

When contacted, an Air India insider said his company under the present CMD has neither been able to recover from losses nor has it been able to achieve any headway in terms of on time performance, which is as low as 52.1. Forget the global scene on this count, Air India’s performance is poor even in comparison with domestic players, he said adding the situation on the performance front when it comes to Air India has been aggravated due to the lack of vision and failure by the highest company authorities, including the CMD to foresee the requirement of on board vacancies – both in terms of cabin crew and pilots, including commanders. The gravity of the problem can be gauged by the fact that in order to meet the shortage of pilots, Air India even chose to go for a walk-in interview in Hyderabad recently but not a single pilot turned up. This obviously reflects the poor rating of the airline.

Ask any passenger, and most will join the chorus to condemn the quality of on board service one gets on most Air India flights in comparison with the private sector carriers. The general opinion is that Air India can be bailed out from the present mess only by bringing in a professional with proven track record to head the organisation.

The present Air India CMD, who is a 1982 batch IAS officer from the Uttar Pradesh cadre, whose 3-year tenure ended in the first fortnight of November last year, is now continuing on extension and will head the national carrier till the appointment of a new CMD. Before his appointment as chief executive of Air India, Mr. Nandan was joint secretary in the Ministry of Civil Aviation from December 16, 2009 till August 23, 2011.

Public Enterprises Selection Board (PESB), a high powered body constituted by Government of India to advise the Government on appointments to the top management posts in Public Sector Enterprises (PSEs), had invited applications to fill the post of Air India CMD on September 9 last year – two months before the end of Nandan’s term. It speaks volumes of the capacity and capability of those in PESB, who have been entrusted the job of playing an important role in selection and placement of personnel in the posts of Chairman, Managing Director or Chairman-cum-Managing Director (Level-I), and Functional Director (Level-II) in PSEs as they raised their hands and could not recommend anyone for appointment as the CMD of Air India. Several months have passed since a high-level committee was mandated to find a replacement for Nandan. The way the whole matter has been allowed to drag on reflects the Central Government’s priority or lack of it when it comes to the national carrier.

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