No, there is no danger to Indian airspace as Mail Today article claims

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A report published on Mail Today has led many to believe that after the ‘loss of data on plane safety’ has made Indian skies utterly unsafe. This may sound sensational but is not remotely true. This is nothing but smacks of a malicious propaganda to discredit the Indian regulatory authority the DGCA.

Indian skies continue to remain as safe if not safer than the European or American airspace. There’s nothing new to database crashing world over including that of even NASA and Pentagon. This is a fact that digital world must live with. It is one of the biggest downside of being completely digital.

Indian airspace

Being digital as record keeping and being paperless are two different things. The loss of data could not pose national security threat or cause safety issue for passengers in any imaginable way.

Let me first highlight some of the points the Mail Today’s sensational piece seeks to discredit the Indian DGCA through.

1. Aviation experts say loss of flight data at such a massive scale may have serious implications not only on passenger safety but also on national security.

2. In the second incident, on July 17, 2000, 60 people were killed when Alliance Air Flight 7412 crashed near Patna airport prior to landing.

3. India witnessed two major air crashes at Mangalore and Patna airports. The Mangalore crash of May 22, 2010 is classified among the top 10 deadliest air crashes in the last decade that led to the death of 158 passengers on board.

Indian airspace

The reason why I think the intent of the article is malicious because it links loss of historical data base to active operational, safety and security clearances.

One needs to understand the difference in database which is in active command and one that is historical data.

Online banking system is active command wherein operational transaction would happen based upon software networking of computers and clients. In this system, any theft of data or software crash has implication of safety, security and operational efficiency.

However, in a school, where examination happen in traditional copybook manner and after the exams, results are compiled and database created for students and their marks, technology is used only to create historical database and for information dissemination purpose.

If the computers crash, school still has the exam sheets and should revert to manual dissemination and record keeping methods.

The DGCA till date has no active online clearance or qualification issuance process. Unlike FAA (USA) or JAA (Euro) wherein pilots training records are uploaded by training institutes in computerised form and regulatory authorities issue clearances online, Indian DGCA has no such process.

A pilot who gets trained as pilot in command or for critical airfield, gets his training signed off in his logbook, a counter entry made in trainer’s logbook, a training record is raised in triplicate in the prescribed format. Training form is retained by the trainee, one copy by the airline and third copy is sent to the DGCA for approval. Approval is always granted in non-digital format.

DGCA has been trying to digitise the records but digital records are not a replacement of paper records.

As an aviator, I feel strongly against sensationalism that has been created based upon data crash of DGCA as it could in no way cause the following:

a. Loss of crew qualification: Each crew carries crew qualification card like a driving license.
b. Loss of record of training: Each pilot folder is maintained by the DGCA, airlines and individual pilot including training institutes.
c. National security is compromised: It’s bizarre to connect historical data loss to national security. All it could mean that the DGCA must once again punch the data to create record from master paper folders like they did in the first instance.
d. Passenger safety is compromised: I leave readers to judge how credible is the threat perception that one day sky will fall. How can such data backup cause an accident either in Patna or Mangalore is beyond my comprehension?

(The author is a former Indian Air Force officer and currently a professional pilot)

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