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Air-India in training turbulence

Mumbai, Oct. 30: Air-India has been hauled up by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for violating its regulations and sending four under-qualified pilots to London for training to create the first batch of Indian instructors/examiners for Boeing 777-200s that are being inducted into the Maharajah’s fleet.

The top-brass of Air-India stands accused by the DGCA and its own officials of showing gross favouritism in selecting the four pilots who do not have adequate “command experience” to train with Alteon, Boeing’s training arm.

Air-India currently has six leased Boeing 777s and the cabinet has approved the induction of more new planes. The four are examiners for the Airbus A 310 ' a plane made by Boeing’s rival Airbus Industrie that is similar in many ways to the B777. In aviation parlance, they are ‘type’ aircraft.

The DGCA has already written a letter to Air-India expressing disapproval over the pilots’ selection.

“Your request for relaxation in flying experience requirements in respect of your commanders for undergoing training as instructors/examiners on type after completion of 200 hours on type has not been accepted. You are requested to comply with the existing flying experience requirements as laid down in CAR (civil aviation regulations),” R.K. Datta, chief flight operations inspector with the DGCA, said in the letter dated October 14 to Air-India director (operations) M.K. Hathi.

The letter goes on to say, “It is understood that Air-India has commenced training of their commanders for approval as examiners on B-777-200 aircraft without meeting civil aviation requirements. It is clarified that any training undertaken by your commanders for approval as instructor/examiner on type without meeting the civil aviation requirements, shall not be acceptable by this office.”

Despite this, Air-India officials said the selection of the first batch of instructors/examiners for B777 was not in violation of the CAR.

“All four Indian pilots have been examiners of high calibre on A310 aircraft for three years and they meet all provisions of the CAR'. subsequent to the receipt of the DGCA’s letter quoted in the report, meetings have been held with DGCA officials and the matter has been clarified by reiterating Air-India’s commitment to provisions of the CAR,” said J. Bhargava, Air India’s director (public relations).

The civil aviation regulations say that to train as instructors/examiners, pilots must log at least 1000 flying hours as commanders. But if they have commander experience on similar type aircraft (in this case A310 and B777s are considered as type aircraft as both have similar engines), the ceiling can be reduced to 500 hours of PIC (pilots in command).

None of the chosen four have logged more than 350 flying hours as commanders with the junior-most having less than 250 hours of command experience. This is much less than what is required under the CAR (See Box).

Air-India had already commenced training of the chosen commanders even before it got DGCA’s views in the matter. In fact, the first of the four commanders has already finished the 15-day training with Boeing and returned from London.

The second pilot was sent, after the DGCA made its position clear and is currently undergoing training as two more wait in the wings.

The nomination of the pilots has also raised queries about their selection process. Top operations department officials of Air-India had reportedly written to the carrier’s chairman V. Thulasidas pointing out the discrepancies in the selection process and raising concerns over flight safety.

In violation of the DGCA regulations, no advertisements were floated and no interviews were conducted. In other letters available with The Telegraph, senior officials have written to Air-India CMD warning that such laxity towards logged flying hours in selection of instructors/examiners may put “lives of fare paying public at stake”. One even warns that, “the recent Air Sahara accident at Mumbai should be an eye-opener”.

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