The black day for Indian aviation dawned when the Federal Aviation Administration downgraded India to Category 2 on safety.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Director-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) cannot brush this ignominy away on the pretence that it is a backlash of the Khobragade affair. It is due to the deceit that stands exposed.

There are two landmark statements on aviation safety:

Justice Mahon of New Zealand conducted an inquiry into the November 28, 1979, crash of an Air New Zealand flight into Mt. Erebus, a volcano in Antarctic. About 237 sightseers and a crew of 20 on board perished in the tragedy.

The initial investigation blamed the pilots for the fatal crash.

A subsequent inquiry by Justice Mahon made one of the most significant findings in investigation. He found that airline executives and senior (management) pilots engaged in a conspiracy to whitewash the inquiry, famously accusing them of “an orchestrated litany of lies” by covering up evidence and lying to investigators.

The Honourable Virgil P. Moshansky, C.M., Q.C., Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench of Alberta (Ret.), gave a presentation titled ‘The Inside Story and Legacy of Dryden at the International Civil Aviation Organisation ( ICAO) on “The Role of Judiciary on Aviation Safety”. There were two important observations:

(1) Intensive public hearings over 20 months literally tore apart the Canadian aviation system. Contributing factors were found not only in the cockpit but also in the carrier’s boardroom and its operations, the offices of the regulator as well as in faulty and inconsistent government policies.

(2) Senior CASB (Canadian Aviation Safety Board) member suggesting that I undoubtedly would wish to massage investigator reports and witness interviews, which, he made clear, was CASB practice.

The term “massage” in this context meant to me manipulation of accident investigator findings to fit an agenda, which later events suggested was not to unduly disturb the aviation industry’s comfort with its own performance.

The Indian public, Parliament and the judiciary have been massaged with an orchestrated litany of lies for years, on the status of aviation safety in India. Safety and surveillance audits of airlines, airports and general aviation are to be conducted diligently by the Safety and Flight Standards Directorate on a regular basis.

It was pointed out to the DGCA, in November 2010, by an ICAO team and several times by the Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council (CASAC) of the Ministry of Civil Aviation that the Flight Operations Inspectors (FOIs) are not sufficient in number and there is a severe conflict of interest. A majority of the FOIs were management pilots who never carried out the safety work.

The Flight Standards Directorate has also turned a blind eye to serious lowering of standards of examiners, instructors and check pilot of various airlines. Documented proof of Jet Airways and Air India examiner pilots fudging log books and proficiency check reports and simulator training sessions were provided to the DGCA by the Operations Group of CASAC. The former DGCA chose to ignore the blatant violations. Serious safety standards infringement in airports was also given a go by.

The ministry and the DGCA were only interested in commercial interests of the airlines and airport operators and not on safety.

Serious implications

The implications of the downgrade are serious. Air India and Jet Airways cannot increase their operations to the U.S. until the status is restored. All code shares with American carriers get cancelled. Both carriers will be subjected to inspections for safety compliance. Other aviation authorities may opt to increase the surveillance and safety audits of Indian carriers.

The DGCA has finally been exposed. After the Mangalore crash that cost 158 lives, the government appointed a watchdog committee —- CASAC. Unfortunately, the present minister and the babus holding the DGCA and Secretary posts during the past two years expected us to be lapdog committees. They ignored all safety findings and recommendations of CASAC. Today, true to Peter’s Principle, the former DGCA has been elevated to the Regional Director of ICAO in Bangkok.

The PMO was made aware of the impending downgrade, and they should intervene in the interest of safety of travelling public. Persons responsible for this ignominy should be held accountable and made to pay a price. Immediate efforts are required to correct the dangerous drift in safety standards.