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Indian Aviation Story: The ‘Growth’ is in fact a Tumour that will kill

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Indian Aviation is continuing to be fastest growing Aviation markets in the world and the IATA predicts that India will displace the UK to the Third Spot in the Global Aviation Market by 2025 just next to China and the United States. IATA analysed this only with the data it has on the traffic without actually checking on the state of Aviation Safety. Will Indian Aviation survive until 2025 or will this bubble burst before that……?

Unlike the Stock Market bubble, the Aviation is not actually a bubble, but the India story is a bubble because nobody tried to analyse the reason for this growth and if the environment is conducive to sustain that growth. With liberalization Indian markets opened up and so did its population. India has half of its population worried about its next meal and yet we are growing almost in all spheres. The reason: 5% of its population can afford almost anything. 5% of India’s population is almost the entire population of many countries. When India’s other mode of long distance transport (trains) was crumbling and when Air travel was getting cheaper with the LCC carriers, this growth was bound to happen. it was just the natural consequence of the ballooning population.

The uneasy questions are just begining to pop up. The first point is on AIRPORT INFRASTRUCTURE: There are no airport slots available in the metros. All of them have reached saturation points for any further growth. So when the PM ambitiously declares open the UDAAN scheme (regional connectivity), it doesn’t take off because one end of regional connectivity has to be a metro and there are no slots available!!! looks like the PM and the Civil Aviation Minister of the Country are not briefed by the bureaucrats sitting in the ministry. The Ambitious plans and announcements of the PM and the Minister is just for the press. So the immediate question is does India have the capability of adding more Airports or expanding the existing ones? The answer again is a big NO. Just take a look at the geographical area of US and China, India is one third their size and this means that space is an issue, both on ground and on air. China and India are both populous, but the density of population is much higher in India. Migration from the villages is resulting in density getting slowly concentrated into the metros and Tier II and III cities. This means most Airports that has traffic also has dense populations. Take for eg. Mumbai. The Airport is enveloped by slums on all ends and no political party want to ruffle the vote banks. So they find some space in the ‘Navi Mumbai’ and announce a ‘greenfield’ airport there. India has another major problem and that is CORRUPTION. so the moment the declaration is done, the Land mafia (mostly controlled by politicians) goes on a buying spree and the Real Estate builders are quick to build huge towers. The officer of the Planning authority publicly states that they will commission this ‘greenfield airport’ with a ‘displaced threshold’ to its runways!! He certainly has no idea what it means and is only parroting what has been told to him. But what is the underlining fact is that there cannot be any Airport Infrastructure built in this Country that meets minimum ‘safety’ standards.

When we speak of Airport infrastructure, it also has to include the AIR TRAFFIC SERVICES. the AAI is both owner of most Airports in India and they exclusively provide AT Services. Again CORRUPTION plays havoc. The equipment purchases necessarily has an element of corruption that many OEM’s stay away from India. Space is again an issue as these sensitive equipment have to be perfectly located and the tall buildings around virtually make it difficult to give a proper ‘sitting’ place for these Equipment. There are not enough AT officers available. Merit has no place. People with no integrity find it easier to move up the ladder and the one with the capability and commitment remain harassed. The heights for buildings is approved by the AT Services and corruption allows any building to come up. The ministry has even found a way to democratize (or say inclusiveness) the corruption and have formed an “Appellate Committee for Height Clearance” which has members from the Regulator DGCA and a bureaucrat from the MoCA to ensure all players get their share of the loot. In short, every airport in the country is plagued by ‘obstacles’ and the more dangerous part of this is that the AAI has not even provided information about these obstacles in the Maps. The ATCO’s have been complaining about the equipment, erratic duty hours, lack of proper accommodation and if anyone take a look at the ‘air prox’ data, will clearly know that Indian Aviation is living on the edge. India had witnessed one of the worst mid air collision and yet we do not learn from it. What is worst is that ‘air prox’ data is under reported and so is the accident / incident data.

Then comes the issue of Aircraft maintenance. Boeing and Airbus are very happy with the Indian market that they are more than willing to lobby for India at the EASA, FAA or the ICAO so that these agencies close their eyes to violation of Air Regulations. Recently, just one air carrier (indigo) had over a 100 cases of engine failures and yet the Regulator did not ground the fleet until the defects were fixed. Though this is just a phase in every new introductions, what is worrisome is the fact that the Regulator is lax at looking into Safety issues. Airbus and Boeing very well are aware that the Maintenance engineers in India are grossly underpaid and overworked. it is only a question of time before an aircraft will be brought down by a maintenance related issue. The cries of the overworked workers at the MRO’s are not heard, the DGCA has been systematically eliminating the AME schools in India and when India has another 500 Aircrafts joining the existing fleet of the Airlines, we do not even know where and how are we going to produce the class of workers called the AME’s. its a pathetic story of corruption in every sphere. The DGCA is so grossly corrupt that their officers have started to feel that the ‘under the table’ money is something that rightly belongs to them. These DGCA officers have nothing to do with Aviation, they are occupying the seats they sit in because of the fact that they joined the Regulator as a clerk and were regularly promoted under the government rules and schemes. Their own Audits of airports or airlines are repeatedly showing dangerous levels of non compliance and yet it doesn’t bother them because they are more interested in writing reports than ensuring Safety. Their letters and communications are just intended to save their backs when an accident or incident happens.

When the Aircrafts and when the maintenance of these aircrafts are not taken care off…comes India’s next problem. The PILOTS. There is a global shortage of pilots and unlike any other place, the DGCA came out with a unique plan for India. they imposed a notice requirement of one year for pilots who resign. Add to this, the gross violation of FDTL norms. Each pilot is pushed beyond his capability and it is only a question of time when a ‘tired’ pilot will bring his aircraft down. There is a serious issue of trust that is plaguing the pilot community that they cannot even come together and organise themselves. Add to this the fact that the pilots do not get paid promptly for their work as the financial situation of airlines are getting worst by the day. The worrisome part is that many pilots in India are depressed and some of them are on anti depressants and none of them have made a declaration with either the Airlines or the Regulator for the fear of losing jobs. A ‘German wings’ is certainly in the making in India…. The situation of pilot schools are no different from that of AME schools. corruption rules the roost. Most pilots, just because of the huge costs involved in flying schools come from the elite class though there are some on scholarships and some coming after taking huge loans. Earlier, the Airlines used to spend money and train, these days pilots pay for everything and over all these they even write bonds.

So when the Regulator becomes so powerful without accountability and manages to get silence from the stakeholders, the future of Indian Aviation is not the story of a growth, it is a tumour, a cancerous one which will kill. The pilots do not raise voice for the fear of losing their livelihood, the AME’s don’t raise voice for the fear of losing their livelihood, the Flying schools, the AME schools , the Airlines don’t raise voice because of the fear of losing their businesses.

The Picture I have put is of a lady who will be the face that will put everyone to shame. This is one lady who stood up against corruption. she stood up against her own organisation against all odds. Her voice is not being heard. She is the Aviation Safety officer of the Western Region of the AAI. she was fired by the Chairman of AAI, himself a corrupt man. She is being made an example for all those who will show the guts to stand up. She was fired, her husband is under suspension and even the subsistence allowance which is mandatory to be paid under Indian laws is not paid to her …..all this when she has a special child. Once a disaster strikes Indian Aviation, she will be a voice heard by all, she will be a face that cannot be forgotten by any. I am just showing her face now so that all of you who read this knows what it is…….

I am the only one who has taken on the most corrupt organisation in this Country. the DGCA is without doubt the most corrupt, their officers either corrupt or incompetent, and the DGCA will single handedly bring down Indian Aviation. My voice is getting heard in the four walls of the Indian Judiciary which is painfully slow. I always say that my fight is a race against time and i always say that an air accident is inevitable in India or involving Indian carriers. No one hears my warning, people whose lives are at stake love to remain ignorant because in India we make noises only after the tragedy and none to avert them…..

So if anyone thinks Indian Aviation story is a growth story, it certainly is, but the only fact is that the growth is a tumour and cancerous and it will kill….how many will it kill is something that time will tell…….but an aircraft going down in a city like Mumbai will certainly make Chernobyl or a Bhopal look so small…..BRACE FOR IMPACT

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