1) Pilot fatigue is believed to be a major cause of air accidents. Symptoms of fatigue (similar to being drunk) are impaired judgement and extremely slow reflexes. Split second decision making and taking immediate corrective action - essential attributes of a pilot's job - are not possible under these circumstances.
2) Rules to prevent pilot fatigue are known as FDTL Regulations and all countries that are member states of the ICAO are obligated to implement strictly implement them. These rules may not be broken nor waived off unless in exceptional (emergency like) circumstances which the DGCA may specify. These rules are not meant to be waived off ( i.e dispensed off ) for circumstances such as poor planning by an airline or commercial reasons.
3) Air India has been found to be flouting many of these FDTL regulations regularly, by citing the DGCA's approval to do so. According to Air India officials,these waivers (or dispensations) are communicated verbally by the DGCA to Air India - and the affected pilots are not given any documentary proof of the same - only a telex message or an excerpt of a log entry.Lately it has come to light ( through the media) that most of these claimed dispensations are non -existent and that Air India has been duping its pilots and endangering lives, through fraudulent means.
This inspite of the DGCA's official letter to the CMD dated 18th March 11 clarifying that only the DG himself is personally empowered to issue dispensations and nobody else.
Yet, several complaints and letters to the DGCA on this issue by the pilots' union have yielded no result.
History of Fraudulent Dispensations:
1) On 15th December 2011 Air India's pilots were issued a notice(known as a company advisory) saying that all FDTL norms could be waived off in the event of a flight being diverted due to bad weather as the aircraft had to be flown back to its original destiniation - no matter how tired and fatigued its pilots were. This waiver of regulations would have severely affected pilots on long haul and ultra long haul routes to North America ,Europe and the Far East, where pilots would have crossed multiple time zones ,been severely sleep deprived,exhausted and jet lagged. The airline informed pilots that no documentary proof of this waiver from DGCA would be provided as permission had been granted verbally - citing passenger convenience. In reality the company wanted to avoid spending money on hotel acccomodation for passengers and crew by confining them inside the aircraft for as long as it took for the weather to improve.
A investigation by the media later proved that no such permission had been granted by the DGCA and that Air India authorities had issued the notice to pilots through fraudulent means.
Read: Air India's dangerous order to flight crew withdrawn
2) On 19th March'11 Air India informed four pilots, that the civil aviation minister himself had granted permission through Capt N.K Beri , GM (Operations) Delhi, to flout FDTL regulations for a flight from Delhi to Tokyo and back. This was a glaring deviation from established norms as the only person empowered to provide such permission was the Director General of Civil Aviation himself. Both the minister and the DG later denied granting such permission to Air India and hence the flight was deemed illegal with severe implications on crew and passengers in terms of safety and insurance . Infact the Minister appeared to have been misled by the concerned Air India officials at a briefing held the previous night and was unwittingly misquoted later.
AI misled pilots, min, endangered flyers - Times Of India
3) Air India also claimed to have received verbal dispensations for atleast FIVE flights between 7th April to 18 th April 11 for waiving off the Flight Time Limit ( FTL) for a single set of pilots. Two pilots, who may have to perform 2 or more landings, are allowed to be at the controls for a maximum of 9 hours at a stretch to prevent a condition known as transient fatigue - a known killer in aviation.This is being done because of poor manpower planning and cost cutting - the airline is cutting corners by using just two pilots for certain long fights when it actually requires three.
In these cases too, a particular individual,Capt N.K Beri GM (Operations), took credit for obtaining these verbal dispensations from the DGCA . Alarmingly, unlike the FDTL limit ( the total time on duty ), there is NO PROVISION at all in the current regulations to extend the FTL of pilots. The company has thus gone one step further this time by not only bending rules but creating new ones out of thin air ! The authenticity was not known to the pilots but they were issued official telex messages communicating the information ,whilst in transit to operate these flights and did so in good faith.
The Times of India carried an article on 18th May 11 revealing that the claimed dispensations were fake
Is AI duping pilots and putting fliers at risk? - Times Of India
Infact yet another similar occurence on 18th May 11 has come to light - where a 30 minute dispensation was claimed to have been obtained by Capt N K Beri from DGCA for a DAMMAM COCHIN flight - on the same day the newspaper article appeared ! This despite the DGCA going on record to say that he would take action in the matter of these fake dispenstions.
1) Regularly communicating false information to dupe pilots to bend safety regulations and jeopardise lives ,is a criminal offense.
2) Verbal dispensations cannot be authenticated - hence in the event of a catastrophic air accident - the company would blame its (dead) pilots for violating the law,absolve itself of all responsibilty and claim reduced liabilities towards passengers.
3)Foreign governments should now review the entry of Indian registered aircraft into their airspaces as these incidents now raise serious issues about the credibility of India's DGCA as an honest, airsafety regulator. Safety rules are no longer sacro sanct and can be modified or waived off to suit vested interests while the DGCA looks the other way. India needs an independent NTSB like watchdog to oversee the DGCA ,as currently it is the rule maker, prosecutor,judge,jury and jailor all rolled into one. This is dangerous as no unsupervised organisation with such a critical role to play must be allowed to wield such absolute authority as it has clearly turned into a rogue,corrupt entity..
Questions that need to be urgently raised:
1) Why have the concerned officials who are directly responsible for these repeated criminal offences ,through their acts of fraud,cheating, ommission and commission,not been hauled up yet ?
2) The DGCA has been cracking down on pilots with fake marksheets- so why has no investigation been initiated for these ,which are constitute an even more serious offence ?
3)Why have Air India's Board of Directors,Department of Flight Safety or its Vigilance Department remained mute spectators?
4) Is the DGCA's inaction a clear indication of tacit approval and collusion ?
Read : AI-DGCA play farcical game over safety norms - Times Of India