Friday, March 28, 2014

Aviation regulator cracks whip on flights for poll campaign

New Delhi: Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has directed pilots and crew of aircraft or helicopters flying VIPs for poll campaigning to ensure that no unauthorized cash, narcotics or arms are carried in the flight.

It has also directed business jet operators and pilots to ensure that the hired aircraft or helicopters are airworthy and adhere to all safety requirements.

In a dos and don'ts list ahead of Lok Sabha elections, DGCA said that the operators may face penal action if their pilots do not adhere to safety guidelines while flying VIPs.

It directed them and flight crew to ensure that no unauthorized cash, narcotics or arms are carried in the flight.

The guidelines also include submission of passenger manifests to the aviation regulator a week in advance.

The flight crew would have to carry local and other maps during flight for navigation and "shall not rely on GPS (global positioning system) only", the guidelines said.

DGCA has asked the flight crew to Google helipad coordinates as an additional measure to check their correctness, suitability and other flying aspects like obstacles (for instance, tall trees and high-tension wires) and landing and take-off directions, among others.

A special cell has also been set up within DGCA to monitor the flights of the non-scheduled charter operators, official sources said.

These guidelines, many of which already exist, as also surveillance and regular checks by DGCA are basically meant to keep the private operators on their toes, they said.

The latest circular also lays down penalty for non-compliance with guidelines which include suspension of operations, flying license as well as the pilot's license.

Copies of the latest circular have been sent to the Election Commission, state governments and all the non-scheduled operators.

The guidelines came nearly a week after the regulator grounded a business jet owned by Reliance Industries following a surprise inspection at Delhi airport for carrying expired safety equipment on board and suspended its pilot for flying without a licence.

The aircraft was later cleared after RIL replaced the equipment and furnished the required documents.

DGCA had also inspected Jindal Steel and Power Limited's Global Express BD 700 aircraft and found several lapses.

The regulator said that analysis of earlier accidents or incidents associated with small aircraft or helicopter operations from airstrips and temporary helipads and past experience of election flying by the operators has revealed that laid down instructions were violated time and again and safety was jeopardized.

Election flying is a highly demanding exercise in terms of skill levels and professionalism, the sources said, adding that long flying hours, large number of take-offs and landings, weather changes, lack of proper rest, hurriedly prepared helipads, crowd control and congested airspace pose serious challenges to air travel during polls.

Besides, frequent changes in itinerary, time management, highly stressed security arrangement, surcharged crowds, difficult and disturbed areas and lack of adequate communications also pose risk, they said.