The latest in the series of scams that are tumbling out of cupboards in New Delhi relates to the forged mark sheets submitted by pilots to secure an Airline Transport Pilot's Licence. Co-pilots need this licence to graduate to a commander. At least some of them decided they could fake their way through the qualifying examination, and it was not until one of them landed an aircraft with its nose wheel down first and the incident was investigated that it transpired she had not legitimately passed her examination. That pilot from IndiGo and another from Air India have since been arrested on charges of faking their mark sheets; two others are absconding. The industry regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) says between 3,000 and 4,000 such licences are now under the scanner. Evidently there seems to be collusion among the pilots, touts, and some staff in the DGCA, who are in charge of issuing the mark sheets after the special tests that are held every three months to enable co-pilots to move up the ladder. Strangely, the DGCA had warned pilots at least twice in the past two years, not to fall a prey to such touts. Now, Air India has set up a three-member committee to probe all the licences and the mark sheets. It has come to light that sons and daughters of many DGCA staff have become pilots, and this gave room for suspicion of collusion and the entry of touts into this business.

Safety experts in the Aviation sector believe that anywhere between 50 and 60 of the serving commanders in various airlines could be suspect in the forged mark sheets scam, and about 200 with a co-pilot's licence need to be investigated about the genuineness of their papers. The unbridled growth of the aviation sector over the past decade has created a huge demand for pilots in recent years, with a simultaneous increase in the number of commanders needed. A commander earns at least twice as much as a co-pilot and hence the incentive for co-pilots to graduate as quickly as possible. But there cannot be any shortcuts to the commander's seat. While cheap and competitive fares have made flying affordable to the common people, greed and trickery of these illegitimate commanders are now putting thousands of lives at risk. Worse, if it is proved that a pilot of an aircraft that meets with an accident had forged documents, neither the airline nor its passengers will be entitled for even insurance claims. The DGCA has to get to the bottom of this scandal and weed out all unscrupulous elements. With an estimated 6,000 pilots on rolls, the regulator needs to streamline the process and set the house in order.

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