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Business News/ Economy / ‘Better aircraft investigation, more technical staff needed’

NEW DELHI : Air traffic growth in India has shot past estimates as pandemic lockdowns become a distant memory. Airlines and airports have reported record passenger numbers even during the ongoing March quarter, traditionally a weak period for the industry. Arun Kumar, the outgoing chief of India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), believes that India’s aviation regulation needs upgrading in terms of technical manpower and aircraft investigation to facilitate the coming aviation boom as Air India and IndiGo prepare to induct hundreds of new aircraft in the next eight years. Edited excerpts of an interview:

What would you rate as your three key achievements?

I held multiple charges in the aviation ministry, but this, I would say, was the most fulfilling as this was a hands-on job. I would rate the upgrade of India in terms of its safety oversight capability ranking as one of the biggest achievements during my tenure. Under the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) audit, the effective implementation of India increased to 85.69% from the previous 69.95% and 57% in 2017-18, thus, improving India’s ranking to 48-49th spot from being placed around 130th rank and 105th rank among 193 nations. The second would be the electronic roll-out of services offered by the DGCA through our e-GCA. Now, stakeholders do not have to come to our offices for their medical examination, licences renewal, etc. and can do it at the click of a button. It has brought ease of doing business, which is a key focus area of this government. Third is a slew of regulations to fill the gaps. India did not have regulations for drugs, and we have implemented this for all. Air traffic controllers, ground handlers and aircraft maintenance engineers, who are as critical as cockpit and cabin crew, have been brought under breath analyzer test, and we are testing them for alcohol.

What are the challenges ahead for aviation regulation?

Now, the challenge will be to get into top 20 or 25 in safety oversight ranking, where countries such as South Korea, Singapore, and UAE are. There are areas where we lag and one such area is aircraft investigation (Aircraft Accidents Investigation Bureau).

Our aircraft investigation is not that strong and needs to be upgraded, strengthened, and get more people. Another area is availability of technical manpower. We need to make more robust regional and sub-offices of DGCA. If we do this over the next three-five years, then by the next audit, we can improve further.

As the capacity is exploding and many more aircraft will come, DGCA will also have to upgrade and strengthen itself. Recently, we have been allowed to fill up some 400-odd technical posts, which we will be doing over the next one or two years. We have a plan to add 1,000 more people by 2030. This scaling up of DGCA personnel will ensure adequate surveillance and safe landings.

What were your key challenges during your stint?

When I joined, there was this issue with Pratt & Whitney engines and two of our major airlines—on the basis of market share and orders—were facing challenges and there were several complaints of in-flight shutdown (IFSD), which created a lot of panic.

While faulty engines were being replaced with new ones, it was being done at a slow rate. We expedited replacements and could bring the situation under control in three to six months. The second challenge was technical glitches during the last monsoon, which was the time aeroplanes were coming back to service post-covid.

In recent times, this new concern has been of unruly passengers on board. We had regulations in place, but, unfortunately, it was not very rigorously implemented, so, at times, it resulted in some embarrassing events taking place on board.

Do you think there is a need to make the punishment for unruly passengers more stringent?

How harsh can you be to a passenger? I think, for the moment, the regulations are enough. You need to understand that many of these mistakes are also due to ignorance since we are adding a lot of new fliers as we expand to various regions of the country.

Covid was a difficult time for every airline financially. Did you come across airlines cutting corners to save costs?

There were issues regarding airlines running out of money and running out of support staff at smaller airports, which were taken care of eventually with airlines deputing people. The bigger concern was there were a few instances of accidents in some countries abroad during return to service phase after covid-related lockdowns and groundings. So, we ensured that airlines undergo the set protocol by Airbus and Boeing to ensure all checks are in place before the aircraft took off for operations.

Is the worst over for the industry?

Yes, I think the worst is over for the industry. There are two indicators. One is this air traffic of around 440,000 to 450,000 passengers every day, which is huge and looks sustainable. Airports are also back in profits. I can safely say the worst is over for the industry.


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Updated: 24 Feb 2023, 07:18 PM IST
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