Monday, January 20, 2014

To avoid downgrade, government seeks 75 new posts for Directorate General of Civil Aviation at market rates

NEW DELHI: The real prospect of Indian aviation being downgraded by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), thanks to a dilapidated directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA), has forced the government to make some last-ditch amends to retain DGCA's current rating. The aviation ministry wants aviation safety experts to be hired full-time for the regulatory body at market rates — as existing sarkari norms keep talent away from it.

"We are seeking Cabinet nod to create 75 posts for flight operations inspectors (FOI). We are also seeking permission to pay them as per industry norms. The global norm is to have one FOI for every 10 aircraft. India has 760-odd aircraft and helicopters and so we are seeking 75 posts," said an official.

The aviation ministry wants nod for this proposal at the earliest as the FAA recently audited the DGCA and its report is expected this month itself. Given the recent diplomatic spat between India and US over the Devyani Khobragade issue and the continually effete form of DGCA — that US had been overlooking in the past due to good ties with India apart from commercial interests like selling its aircraft to Indian airlines — there is increasing nervousness in aviation circles this time.

Also, UPA-II has not been able to get the civil aviation authority bill passed by Parliament and pave the way for this FAA-type agency to eventually replace the DGCA.

About three months back (just before the FAA team came for the audit), the government had hired full-time pilots from commercial airlines for DGCA as flight operations inspectors (FOI). Ten 10 serving pilots — senior ones of the rank of instructor and examiners — were taken on contract for a year at a monthly pay of Rs 10-12 lakh. An equal number of pilots grounded due to medical reasons or being over 65 years of age (maximum age of a commercial pilot) will be hired on a monthly pay of Rs 3-5 lakh.

The FAA has listed 33 deficiencies in DGCA during an audit earlier last year. "UPA has continuously ignored DGCA even as air traffic grew in India after 2007 when low cost carriers started mushrooming. Even as air traffic exploded, the safety oversight mechanism of DGCA kept deteriorating over the years. It is only India's clout in the global market that has prevented a DGCA downgrade so far," said a senior pilot.

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