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'Kozhikode is only the first'

August 21, 2020 19:24 IST
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'We are going to have plane crashes left, right and centre.'

IMAGE: Wreckage of the Air India Express flight which crashed at Kozhikode airport on the evening of August 7, 2020. Photograph: ANI Photo

"We are going for crashes after crashes until the world takes notice," aviation safety activist and advocate Yeshwant Shenoy tells Prasanna D Zore/ in the concluding segment of a two-part interview.

Are there no checks and balances on how the DGCA or the AAI functions?

I will tell you something very interesting here. These buildings cannot come up just like that because there are multiple safety audit tests carried out by the Airport Authority (of India) the DGCA.

So, without the DGCA and AAI coming together you cannot have these buildings around airports in violation of civil aviation safety rules.

Then you have the Big Daddy, the civil aviation ministry, which is also part of this syndicate.

To overcome these safety restrictions, what they did is they proposed something called the appellate committee on height clearance, which is headed by the joint secretary, ministry of civil aviation.

One of its members is from the Airport Authority of India, who is in charge of air navigation services.

Another member is a joint director general of the DGCA and there is an independent member, who till his death was Kanu Gohain, the former DGCA chief.

Now let's say if they allow extra height of some buildings around the airport I have to lodge a complaint with the DGCA.

According to the Aircraft (Demolition of obstructions caused by buildings and tress) Rules, 1994, the authority which can order demolition of such buildings is the joint DG of the DGCA, the same person who in the first place has allowed violation of the height clearances rules.

What naturally happens is people lodge a complaint with the vigilance officer in the ministry of civil aviation. He is also the chairman of the appellate committee for height clearances, the joint secretary.

That is your checks and balances system. It is finished, completely destroyed by this syndicate.

Aren't international aviation regulators concerned about these lapses, given that there are hundreds of international flights landing and taking off at airports like Mumbai and Delhi?

Take, for example, the recent Pakistan International Airlines crash (that happened in June 2020 which killed 97 people). Before the crash everything was hunky-dory with everybody, including international aviation regulators.

After the crash now, EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) has banned PIA and Pakistani pilots.

If you remember after the Mangalore crash, the FAA downgraded India for a year. So, international agencies get to know about the violations only when there are accidents.

When international civil aviation regulators audit, they go to the DGCA, the Airport Authority and the airline operators. All the documentation is done properly.

So, India is very safe on paper. In reality, we are not.

Won't these international aviation regulators know about these 467 obstacles at Mumbai airport and 369 at Delhi?

I have written about this to these international regulators and, in fact, they (the DGCA, AAI, etc) came to the Delhi high court asking the judge to stop me from sending these e-mails to international aviation regulators.

Justice Gita Mittal, then of the Delhi high court, and now the Chief Justice of the Jammu and Kashmir high court, severely reprimanded the DGCA for even making such a request saying that how can she stop somebody from disseminating safety information.

That is what she did.

While these obstacles at Mumbai and Delhi airport are no secret to international regulators, India being one of the biggest aviation market, requiring huge aircraft fleets which come either from Boeing or Airbus, what happens is Boeing manages US regulators and Airbus manages European regulators.

While India's money power speaks so much when crashes happen, these people will come out feigning ignorance and surprise.

So long as India remains a very attractive market, these aircraft manufacturers or international aviation regulators will do what they have been doing: Remain a mute spectator.

How can this be corrected? How can safety of air passengers become paramount? There are so many flaws, so many lapses, but yet, things go on. We create a ruckus only when 2010 Mangalore happens or when 2020 Kozhikode happens.

Nothing happens in between and that too in spite of me going to the courts and getting orders.

All these 10 years I have been in courts and I have regularly got orders against the DGCA. In spite of that the system has not improved.

Is the DGCA then not adhering to judgments passed by various courts in India? Are they not in contempt of courts?

No. What they do is airport is a restricted zone. I cannot go there and check the runways. So, they provide documents saying they have complied with every court order, but nothing changes on the ground.

Can one prove that the DGCA has not been complying with the orders of various courts in India?

Don't these accidents prove it (that they have not been complying with courts' orders)?

In Mumbai, there have been three overshoots last year. This year too there has been one incident during the rainy season.

Now, I got an order from the Delhi high court throwing out the FDTL and the DGCA came out with an FDTL which is worse than what I had challenged.

And this pilot fatigue issue is still so serious that I am telling you, and that is where I am coming from, Kozhikode is only the first in the series.

We are going to have plane crashes left, right and centre.

Would these happen only during the monsoon?

Any time of the year, because every season brings with it, its own issues. Summers, winters, monsoons all bring their own issue.

Monsoons are a problem more in the south. Winters are a problem in the north and north east of India.

I am telling you this winter I am expecting a crash in north or north east India.

Why? What is your assessment based upon?

Why are all the crashes happening in the south of India during monsoon? Because weather conditions are bad here.

Of all the safety aspects, weather is very important and if in addition any of the other things are not in place then you are finished.

Is there any airport in India that fully complies with all the safety regulations?

I will happily say no. I will put it in a very different way.

The deadliest plane crash ever in the world killed 583 people (external link) in the US. That's the maximum fatalities in any aircraft accident in the world.

I am telling you India will break that record with a crash in Mumbai.

I would say because of those obstacles, but also because Mumbai airport probably is one of the most dangerous today.

Inside the airport there are no safety compliance; outside the airport no compliance.

So, Mumbai airport has several safety issues and the aviation safety officer in charge there, wrote a scathing report in 2018 on aviation safety at the airport.

You know what happened to her? Safety officer Mangala Narasimhan (Airports Authority of India's deputy general manager, aviation safety) was dismissed from service. Her husband (K S L Narasimhan, AAI, joint general manager, air traffic control), was also suspended from duty.

All these honest officers who have been highlighting aviation safety violations have been eliminated by these very people and therefore, I am telling with certainty that Kozhikode is only the first in the series.

We are going for crashes after crashes until the world takes notice.

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