Exclusive report: Investigation exposes blatant violation of safety rules by senior pilots

Air India

Even as the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) claims that it keeps tabs on airlines and their operations to ensure passenger safety, an investigation by Headlines Today has uncovered a deadly racket that has been on in the aviation industry for years.

Headlines Today stumbled upon the shocking abuse of law and regulations that have been framed to ensure that pilots controlling the rudder are licensed to fly and not to kill.

In one such case of blatant violation of safety rules, a senior pilot of Air India — Captain Vivek Shanbag — was found resting in a five-star hotel at the time when he was supposed to receive simulator training, crucial to the renewal of his flying license.

CCTV footage of October 29, 2012 of the hotel in a Mumbai suburb, accessed by Headlines Today, shows Shanbag coming out of a car and fetching his bag at 2.34 am.

The pilot was, however, issued a certificate as a confirmation that he had received simulator training between 11.30 pm on October 28 and 7 am on October 29.

Shanbag was given a certificate claiming he underwent simulator training, while he ate and slept in the hotel. The training has been mandated by DGCA and Air India to ensure that the pilots get familiar with their machines to test their mistakes on a computer so that they do not make them on the real thing.

The man who issued the certificate to Captain Shanbag — Captain Dhillon — has been a trainer for 10 years during which he has certified over 200 pilots. The question then rises if Dhillon had issued certificates to the pilots in the same way as he did to Shanbag.

The DGCA claimed that action has been taken against Dhillon, but the reality is that the tip of the racket has just been exposed.

In yet another case, a body that advises the DGCA has demanded action against two Jet Airways pilots. While one of them is a trainer, the other is his trainee. Both of them claimed that they were there at the time of simulator training on February 10, 2012.

However, a probe into Jet Airways’ internal transport data found that while one was in Lokhandwala, the other was present at the airline’s headquarters at the time of the so-called training.

Headlines Today had earlier unravelled three cases of pilots fudging their training document. Though the authorities claim they have been acting, but in reality if the pilots do not receive simulator training they cannot renew his licenses.

Minister promises action

When Headlines Today approached Union Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh for his reaction to the expose, he was quick to promise action.

“Passenger safety is paramount for us,” the minister said.

BJP leader Rajiv Pratap Rudy, who himself happens to be a trained pilot, said he was shocked on the revelations, which he said were “unbelievable”.

The former civil aviation minister in the NDA regime said it was a “matter of grave concern” and demanded action against the guilty pilots.

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