The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Licence to fly, no need for tests

New Delhi, April 5: India, which ranks high on the list of aviation accidents, is one of the few countries where helicopter pilots are given commercial licences without any flight test.

The reason: the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) does not have flight inspectors capable of testing these pilots. The last few months have not even seen inspectors qualified to check the airworthiness of helicopters. Repeated advertisements for the post have not yielded results, officials in the civil aviation ministry said.

Chopper pilots ' most of them are ex-combat pilots from the armed forces and a few have been trained abroad ' get licences to fly commercial helicopters on the basis of their experience.

With no inspectors around, the mandatory checks at a later stage on how well the choppers are equipped to continue flying are also dispensed with.

There are no simulator training facilities that teach commercial helicopter pilots to handle emergencies of the kind that killed Congress ministers from Haryana O .P. Jindal and Surender Singh in a recent crash in the Saharanpur district of Uttar Pradesh.

In 2001, a similar tragedy had claimed another Congress leader, Madhavrao Scindia.

'That is why I always advise my politician friends never to hire helicopters during campaigns,' said Trinamul Congress MP Dinesh Trivedi, a member of the civil aviation parliamentary committee. 'I keep asking myself, 'are these VIP helicopters or VIP suicide craft'

Former Indian Airlines director of flight safety Captain S.S. Panesar, too, endorsed the 'urgent need for introspection into flight inspection standards'.

He added: 'We have asked the DGCA to sit in judgement on choppers and pilots they themselves have licensed. Perhaps, it's time we not only asked for a judicial committee to probe these accidents but also to look into the lacunas in the way the helicopter sector is managed.'

Trivedi pointed out that there have been as many as 24 serious private helicopter accidents since 1990. 'India is ranked as one of the top nations for aviation accidents globally. This is a reputation we need to wash away.'

With the mushrooming of new airlines and chopper services, 'training, flight inspection and aircraft inspection standards have to be maintained at very high levels to avoid being treated with disdain or suspicion by global travellers', he said.

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