Eyes on the skies in India as Aviation Industry "RISE"

Enforcement of safety standards in India’s Aviation Industry is not keeping pace with the rapid growth of the sector, experts warn.
A number of pilots in India have been securing licences after barely flying because of fudged documents, while the regulator is ill-equipped to monitor safety of Aircraft and personnel as Airlines continue to expand and more carriers take to the skies in the country.

With the International Civil Aviation Organization expected to conduct an audit towards the end of this year, Aviation Safety in India is coming into sharp focus.

“In my nearly 30 years of experience in Aviation in India, I always found a great emphasis on very high safety standards 
in the initial years,” says Satish Modh, who was in Aviation for most of his career before becoming the director of the Vivekanand Education Society Institute of Management Studies and Research in Mumbai. 

“But as the Aviation Sector expanded greatly, the system was not geared enough to handle such high growth. Nearly the same number of people were dealing with a three to fourfold increase in the number of Aircraft and licensed personnel. Even if the measures were stringent there was the possibility of making mistakes and ignoring some incidents due to shortage of flight inspectors.”

There has been a surge in the growth of India’s Aviation Sector over the past decade, particularly with the rise of low-cost carriers. Last year, a new full-service Airline, Vistara, a joint venture between Singapore Airlines and Tata Group, took to the skies. The previous year, the budget Airline AirAsia India launched in the market.

“With the growth in Aviation Sector there was huge demand for pilots by private Airlines,” says Mr Modh. “There was a rush to obtain pilot licences and aspirants went all over the globe including some dubious flight schools in India, US, Europe and south Asia. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) conducted raids on many flight schools and cancelled their flight training licences,” he explains. 

“The problem arose because of fudging of the record books which were filled manually. Certainly after the new incidents of fudging brought to light, there is a need for recertification of flying clubs and pilot training schools.”

Anupam Verma, 25, told Bloomberg News recently that he was given a certificate showing he had flown an Airplane for 360 

hours by a flying school in Indore after spending just over half-an-hour in the air in the co-pilot’s seat. In India, 200 hours of flying are required to obtain a pilot’s licence.

“What if I was flying and had an emergency?” he said. “I wouldn’t even know how or where to land.”

For its part, the DGCA has indicated that it plans to conduct a review of all flying schools in India that would require their recertification.

Airlines in India are struggling with profitability amid price wars and high operating costs, including taxes. Indian 
Airlines’ losses are expected to total US$1 billion this year, according to the International Air Transport Association. 

It expects India to become the world’s third largest aviation market by 2029.

“We do believe that there needs to be a focus on strengthening the resources and expertise within the DGCA to ensure that Indian aviation is able to grow safely,” says Binit Somaia, the director for South Asia at Capa Centre for Aviation. “With traffic having the potential to triple over the next decade this will place a significant additional burden on the regulator for which it needs to be equipped and prepared.”

Capa’s figures show that India’s Domestic Airline passenger numbers have reached about 60 million passengers a year.