EXCLUSIVE: DGCA’s obsession with less safe and more expensive training aircrafts. Is DGCA enacting Rang De Basanti in real life?

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Rifat Jawaid

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Remember the scene of a defence minister being shot by young ‘revolutionaries’ in Aamir Khan-starrer Bollywood blockbuster ‘Rang De Bsanti?’ That scene was played to highlight the rampant corruption in defence deals, which had led to procurement of aircraft with poor safety record.

14 years after the movie was released, that scene is now being enacted by Director General of Civil Aviation in real life. That’s because the aircrafts used by the DGCA is extremely unsafe, hugely expensive and should not have been part of our fleet.

Crores of Indian taxpayers’ money is being wasted every year because of vested interests, rampant corruption and policy paralysis in the civil aviation sector.

An investigation by Jantakareporter.com has found that the Director General Civil Aviation’s questionable decision on approving a hugely expensive option despite the availability of a considerably cheaper and safer option for flying training, has cost Indian exchequer crores of rupees over the last 10 years. Experts are now demanding a thorough investigation as they suspect a huge corruption brewing in the flying training sector of India’s civil aviation.

Consider this;

  • The major advantages of the light sports aircraft for training the young pilots include its technologically advanced features and low cost of acquisition and operation, when compared to the old and conventional all metal airframe, fuel guzzling trainer aircraft, like the Cessna 152, 172, which are commonly in use in India since the mid 60’s.
  • While International Civil Aviation Organisation and several other aviation bodies in most of the developed world including USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand and Canada have endorsed and approved the use of CTLS aircraft for flying training in 2005, India has chosen to opt for Cessna 152, 172 for decades.
  • While the cost of a CTLS aircraft varies between Rs 50 lakh and Rs 80 lakh, the Cessna’s minimum price is Rs 2.5 crore with the improved model such as Cessna 172 costing as much as Rs 4.5 crore. Cessna’s huge cost aside, the light training aircraft used by India is also less safe compared to that of CTLS aircraft. According to one senior Indian Air Force officer, CTLS offers far more safety in comparison with Cessna.

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A senior IAF officer, who requested not to be identified, said,  “The CTLS, as an aircraft, is much more advanced and safe when compared to the Cessna C-152/172 & Pushpak/Swathi  trainer aircraft of  1950s/60s/70s vintage. The DGCA permits flying training on such old trainer aircraft but restricts the use of advanced trainer aircraft like CTLS. As far as safety features are concerned, the aircraft has an excellent track record in safety and is equipped with ballistic parachute that brings down the entire aircraft and its occupants safely in case of extreme emergencies.”

Then there’s also a question of fuel cost and its availability. CTLS aircraft can be operated on normal petrol, which costs Rs 65 per litre, while the cost of fuel for Cessna is three times higher and is also not readily available. In some case, the fuel for Cessna is brought from as far a distance as 1000 kms.  (See graphics above) The fuel used by Cessna is 100 octane LL, which is not considered clean fuel and its use is gradually being phased out across the world.

This has been in practice for decades and experts say that perhaps this is another classic example of policy paralysis and  vested interest within the government departments.

The DGCA had allowed the use of CTLS aircraft in India in April 2009, for commercial flying training, but performed a spectacular U-turn in 2012 by blocking the path to low-cost flying training in India. In 2005, the US aviation body in collaboration with its European counterpart was the first regulator to conceive and implement the guidelines related to light sports aircraft. This decision, in later years, saw a revolution of sorts in the flying training industry  in the US and across the globe.
Starting 2005, more than 80 new ready-to-fly aircraft designs have been certificated and more than 5,000 such aircrafts are flying in most parts of the world with even Cessna coming out with its own version of light sport aircraft, called the Cessna 162 (Skycatcher) as its demand grew exponentially.

The acceptance was based on the “Special Airworthiness Certificate” issued by the regulator FAA. As expected, the industry welcomed DGCA’s decision and five aircraft were imported between 2009 and 2011 from the largest selling LSA in the USA by a German Manufacturer, Flight Design. The ministry of civil aviation had no hesitation in approving this purchase.

However, only three years later, the DGCA shocked the industry by withdrawing its earlier decision and banned these aircraft from being used as training aircraft. Since then, these five aircraft are lying unused. It’s quite astonishing that when Aero CIub of India, the apex body for promoting ‘General Aviation & flying and Gliding in India was placing an order for three CTLS aircraft in April 2011 it had written to the DGCA seeking their acceptance.

The DGCA had informed the ACI in writing, that the CTLS aircraft were acceptable to them and two such aircraft were already in operation with one of the private flying clubs in India.

So what could be the reason behind the DGCA’s sudden U-turn? The IAF officer with decades of experience in flying, said, “Vested interest is one of the main reasons for this U-turn of the DGCA. The matter is on record that all the problems with CTLS started as soon as the Aircraft won the tender floated by the Aero CIub of India (ACI), the apex body for promoting ‘General Aviation & flying and Gliding in India. The CTLS was selected over hugely acclaimed trainer aircraft like the Cessna-172 and Diamond DA – 40. The CTLS aircraft met all the technical requirements of the tender and was the most cost effective, over its entire life cycle, amongst the competing trainer aircraft.”

The bigger question here is that if there is any external pressure or collusion for a quid-pro-quo is a matter of investigation, which the central government must seriously consider. Industry watchers say that the DGCA is currently mulling over an idea of devising new rules that may permit a pilot to do 10-20 hrs towards his PPL and CPL licences thus completely ruling out the possibility of the aircraft being used for regular flight training.

This new rule will seriously hurt the industry and forever kill the option of a cost-effective base for flying training. The babus in the DGCA however, have their own axe to grind. They pretend not to understand, perhaps due to their own sinister motives, that the LSA concept, as advocated and implemented in the US and Europe, is a ‘low cost’ entry for people into Aviation.

The decision from the regulator, not to implement the LSA concept in India, comes at a time when the aviation industry as a whole, is at its lowest ebb. Thousands of CPL holders are unemployed and fresh student pilots are travelling to countries such as USA & Philippines in search of cheaper flying training.

Jantakareporter.com tried speak to the DG, DGCA, M Sathiyavathy, for her side of the story but she refused to speak to us despite our repeated attempts.

Sources told Jantakareporter.com that there was a clear divide within the DGCA, where the AED (Aircraft Engineering Directorate), which is responsible for giving ‘Type Acceptance’ to all aircraft for flying in India, cleared the CTLS aircraft for flying training in 2009, but the DFT (Directorate of Flying Training), which also cleared the CTLS aircraft for Flying training in Jan 2012, is now opposed to the same aircraft being used for full flying training.

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