A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture has expressed concern over instances of take off, landing of helicopters in low visibility, bad weather and even during nights, saying these were serious breaches of aviation security norms.
In its 168th and 169th report presented to the Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Hamid Ansari on Wednesday, the 30-member Committee with CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury as its chairman, said that technicians, including pilots, were often put under pressure to ignore minor deficiencies and undertake helicopter sorties.
“It happens mainly in the case of chartered helicopters and those under the State governments flying VIPs. Such violations of rules have led to fatal accidents losing several precious lives,” the report said.
Addressing a press conference in New Delhi, Mr. Yechury said that lack of proper maintenance and non-observance of operating manuals, mechanical failures and lack of needed instruments have been found as the causes of such helicopter accidents.
Expressing deep shock over the death of Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Khandu Dorjee in a Pawan Hans chopper crash near Tawang, Mr. Yechury said that other political leaders like the then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy and Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi had also lost their lives in chopper crashes.
He favoured a penal provision against those putting pressure on pilots to fly helicopters without proper clearances. “Conversely, strictest actions be taken against those pilots/technicians who violate these requirements even under some kind of duress,” he said.
Mr. Yechury said the Committee was surprised to note that around 120 aircraft, which might include helicopters, were not capable of operating in hilly terrains as they lacked the necessary instrument.
The Committee has recommended that the government should address the issue of shortage of helicopter pilots on priority since the industry was gaining momentum rapidly. The Committee felt that the government should appoint a panel of experts to review the present system of examination and procedures for giving licences to pilots. It noted that for monitoring proficiency of pilots operating over 250 helicopters, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) was having just four helicopter inspectors on secondment basis from the industry.
Referring to the DGCA — Issues and Challenges, the Committee noted that a large number of positions were lying vacant in DGCA for years due to a prolonged procedure or non-availability of suitable candidates.
The shortage of manpower includes pilots, aircraft maintenance engineers, air operation inspectors who play a crucial role in oversight function of DGCA such as granting approvals and certificates, licences, airworthiness certificates, skill of pilots and so many others.
“How efficiently DGCA was fulfilling these mandates with a highly depleted manpower could be anyone’s guess. In such a situation, instances of obtaining pilots’ licences on the basis of fake certificates should not come as a surprise to anybody,” the Committee noted.
The Committee has recommended creation of an independent authority for accident investigation on an urgent basis which would instil confidence among travelling public. While pitching for strengthening of the DGCA by giving it more financial and administrative autonomy, the Committee felt that the entire licensing system of DGCA should be streamlined and made transparent by making it available in the public domain.