'People have been flying for years on the basis of a police clearance and an airport entry pass.'
'Then they came out with a convoluted thing -- that your police clearance must be from your place of residence.'
'Now if a pilot is sitting in Delhi but is from Timbuktoo, the papers will have to come from there.'
'So at any point, you have a certain number of pilots sitting on the ground because his AEP has expired and the papers haven't come.'
Revealed: India's bizarre processes to get pilots to fly planes.
Aviation industry veteran Shakti Lumba, 66, a pilot, was with Indian Airlines for 28 years, before moving to IndiGo as part of its start-up team, where he worked for five years.
In a conversation with Anjuli Bhargava, Lumba doesn't mince words. He says the growth of the aviation industry in India going forward will be restricted.
Why do you think the growth of aviation in India will be restricted by a severe shortage of pilots and why is the DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) is to blame?
In India, the story is of growth.
Besides having more passengers, it also means having more skilled manpower. There is no institute in India providing all the kinds of skilled manpower.
When you announced a new aviation policy, has anyone looked at what kind of manpower is needed to support this policy.
DGCA needs total upgrading. It still doesn't have a Twitter account. Emails are on their personal account.
Most of its work is still done on paper. Instead of being a safety regulator or facilitator, it is a controlling agency and a pretty stupid one at that.
Why do you say that?
Post the FAA (the US Federal Aviation Authority) downgrade, everything has been made even more stringent.
There are very limited training facilities in India.
The moment you point that out to them (the DGCA), they say there are 5,000 pilots unemployed. But they don't realise that these are CPL (commercial pilot license) holders. They have to become first officers and then captains.
The notice period used to be one month, then three months, then six months and now they want one year.
Does that tell you anything?
The training requirements are bizarre in India.
Let me cite two examples. To do training either you use flying pilots or you use people like me -- retired pilots with a lot of experience.
Recently a Boeing-trained instructor, who is training Air India pilots on B-777 under the Boeing programme in Singapore, wanted to come and train here.
But DGCA did not approve him because the training institute he is from is not DGCA approved.
So now he is training the same Indian pilots at double the cost in Singapore.
What sense does this make?
DGCA is not in a position to assess and approve all training schools all over the place.
A second instance. There's a colleague of mine who left Indian Airlines (he flew A320 extensively) and worked for Qatar Airways.
Now he wanted to come and train pilots here but DGCA says you cannot train pilots on A320 because you haven't flown it for so long.
He argued that it is mixed fleet flying -- he has been flying A330, A340 -- one family of airplanes. He retired just one year ago and has 20,000 hours of experience on Airbus aircraft. But they (the DGCA) refused.
In short, the training requirements for retired pilots -- who will train the junior pilots -- are more stringent than it is for the pilots who are going to fly the aeroplane!
But can't this message get across to them?
There were two crashes in the past based on which it was pointed out that DGCA doesn't have a flight inspection directorate.
Now, the government by and large doesn't take the cognisance of major courts of inquiry if it doesn't suit them.
They never have and they never will.
Anyway, they accepted a few recommendations and I was roped in to set up the directorate in 1991.
The premise was that no one in DGCA had any knowledge or experience in flying so they needed someone to put forth the pilot requirements and limitations.
It worked fine till around early 2000.
Then, this directorate started taking control and instead of being a facilitator of pilots, it became a controller of pilots.
They are like a 'super director of operations' for pilots of all airlines.
And even though I was involved in its setting up, to my mind, civil aviation would be well served if the flight inspection directorate in its present form was disbanded.
If DGCA is not enough, there's another body to contend with: The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security.
There are two catchwords in aviation today. Security and safety.
You say anything... 'No, no, no, it's a safety issue; we can't do anything.'
You say something else... 'No, no, no, it's a security issue; we can't do anything.'
The long and short of it -- between security and safety -- is that nothing can be done or changed.
People have been flying for years on the basis of a police clearance and an airport entry pass (which expires every three years) and there was no disruption of services.
Then they came out with a convoluted thing -- that your police clearance must be from your place of residence.
Now if a pilot is sitting in Delhi but is from Timbuktoo, the papers will have to come from there.
So at any point, you have a certain number of pilots sitting on the ground because his AEP (airport entry pass) has expired and the papers haven't come.
What about foreign pilots?
It gets worse for foreign pilots.
All over the world, if a pilot goes to another country to fly they fly on that country's license (so if an Indian pilot goes to Qatar, he flies on a Qatari license).
But here he flies on his own parent country's license, but he gets a temporary authorisation to fly here.
As a result, not only does he have to comply with all our regulations, he also has to comply with all his.
Twice a year he has to be sent back to his parent country to do that compliance.
Time lost; costs up.
Now, before a pilot comes in, I have to send five copies of all his documents to the DGCA.
He keeps one and sends the others to the home ministry, enforcement, narcotics and wherever.
They say outer limit 60 days. Now 60 days, you wait as you can't bring him in.
Now say security clearance has come from the home nministry. Now he's here in India and I am paying him.
Now he applies for his FATA (foreign air crew temporary authorisation) and takes a test. The result is declared and he has his FATA license.
But only after that will the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security go through his security clearance -- they will do their own. They will not take the clearance given by the home ministry already.
Why you may ask? Because they are two different desks in the home ministry handling this! Can you believe it?
I personally know of one foreign pilot who was here for one full year on full salary and he did not fly a single hour because he was just caught in this whole rigmarole.
What I am saying is that the regulations and requirements often fail to make sense.
And instead of ensuring no disruption in services they are designed such that they disrupt services all the time.
The DGCA has remained caught in a time warp.