Tuesday, March 8, 2011

DGCA uncovers two more fake pilots

New Delhi: Fasten your seatbelts, your captain may have fudged his papers to get a flying licence. Investigations by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), initiated after a woman pilot was found repeatedly landing wrongly on the nosewheel of the plane, has thrown up two more pilots who forged their qualifying papers. Fake captains are fast emerging as the biggest threat to safe flying in India.

The duo recently identified by DGCA were commandeering aircraft after allegedly forging papers that showed they had cleared the tests to graduate from co-pilot to the captains seat. One of the allegedly fake commanders, Meenakshi Sehgal, was flying with IndiGo which has since grounded her. The other, Swaran Singh Talwar, was a commander with MDLR, an airline that has not been operational for many months now.

What’s worrying the aviation industry is that the new cases have tumbled out within a week of DGCA chief Bharat Bhushan ordering an unprecedented drive to verify pilot licences issued in the past. The action was sparked by suspicions about a woman commander of Indi-Go who often landed aircraft with the nose wheels touching down first and then the belly tyres.

The pilot, Parminder Kaur, was grounded for refresher training as per rules but alongside, a regulatory probe of her papers revealed she had allegedly become a commander by giving fake marksheets of the airline transport pilot licence (ATPL) exam mandatory for co-pilots to clear to become commanders.

DGCA issues this licence only after copilots complete 1,500 hours of flying, irrespective of when they clear it. And airlines consider even those who clear ATPL for command only after they fly for 2,000-3,000 hours as co-pilots.

The discovery of fake ATPL commanders had the aviation ministry deeply worried due to its immense safety implications. We are examining pilot licences and have found two more cases (of fake ATPL papers). While the licences are revoked, these cases have also been referred to the police for further action, Bharat Bhushan said, adding there would be no compromise on safety. Airlines share this concern as they rely only on DGCA papers to employ co-pilots and commanders.

We have off-rostered her (Sehgal) since Sunday... We are very happy that the DGCA is investigating all its past licences. There should be a thorough check of all licences given by DGCA, irrespective of which airline someone is working with.

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