The current furore over fraudulent pilot licences recalls what TEHELKA’s sting operation exposed in 2004 — about how norms for obtaining a licence are blatantly flouted by flying clubs with the connivance of the authorities
SEVEN YEARS ago, TEHELKA had revealed the shocking state of pilot training in India (Captain Peril, 18 December 2004). The year-long investigation established that norms for obtaining a flying licence are so blatantly flouted that an unlimited number of flying hours can be logged entirely on paper, the theory exam can be passed and the stringent medical requirements cleared without the actual candidate appearing for them.
A team of TEHELKA reporters (Kumar Baadal, Aman Khanna) was able to obtain a student pilot’s licence (SPL) after clearing the medical check-up but without appearing for the requisite oral examination or the cockpit test. More shockingly, beginning the process that culminates in the commercial pilot’s licence (CPL), TEHELKA was able to log in 10 flying hours without ever getting off the ground.
The CPL entitles the licence holder to immediately begin flying as a co-pilot. The investigations also established that the verification procedures can easily be circumvented and the licence can be issued to just about anyone.
Flying clubs in the country lie at the heart of this scandal. The team met the chief flying instructor of the Northern India Flying Club (NIFC), Patiala, on 21 November 2003. For a bribe, Captain SS Kang was willing to get an SPL issued after an ‘oral’ test, log 10 non-existent flying hours and get the CPL issued without the requisite flying hours through his contacts in the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). When the TEHELKA team queried him on the flying hours, Kang said there was no risk at all in over-logging and admitted that he had done so for many people earlier. Over the next few months, TEHELKA’s interface with the man was taped.
He told TEHELKA that we should meet him with the pilot aspirant at NIFC. The aspirant, the reporters told him, was an Indian who had moved to Canada. He had an airline job offer if he furnished a CPL from the country of his origin. Kang was sure he could ‘manage’ to get him the CPL.
“For the theory part of CPL, which you have to clear, somebody else will appear in place of you in the exam,” the flying instructor said. He added that the cost of getting a CPL directly issued by DGCA licensing authorities without logging in any flying at all “will be Rs. 15 lakh plus. (Because) you know the higher you go their mouths get bigger. They are doing everything authentic’’.
If, after all these years, the nation is horrified at the prospect of flying in planes where pilots have fake licences, it is only because some clumsy landings have driven home the message that the next flight any of us take could be our last. In fact, some of us have had a close shave already, as DGCA scrutiny of Captain Parminder Kaur Gulati’s flight records and analysis of the technical data available on the Digital Flight Data Recorder found that she had landed badly at least on 20 occasions earlier.
Now, Gulati’s licence has been cancelled and she faces charges of forging documents and endangering the lives of passengers. But there are many more like her, and the turbulent weather will continue.