Thursday, May 5, 2011

Panel says VIPs often pressure chopper pilots to operate in adverse conditions

Special Correspondent

Many accidents due to non-observance of operating manuals: Yechury

Students of Arunachal Pradesh light candles to pay tribute to Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu in Guwahati on Wednesday. — Photo: PTI

A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture has expressed concern over instances of take off and landing of helicopters in low visibility, bad weather and even during nights, saying these were serious breaches of aviation security norms.

In its 168 {+t} {+h} and 169 {+t} {+h} reports presented to Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Hamid Ansari on Wednesday, the 30-member committee with CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury as its chairman, said that technicians, including pilots, were often put under pressure to ignore minor deficiencies and undertake helicopter sorties.

“It happens mainly in the case of chartered helicopters and those under the State governments flying VIPs. Such violations of rules have led to fatal accidents, losing several precious lives,” the report said.

Addressing a press conference here, Mr. Yechury said lack of proper maintenance and non-observance of operating manuals, mechanical failures and lack of needed instruments had been found as the causes of such helicopter accidents.

Expressing shock over the death of Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Khandu Dorjee in a Pawan Hans chopper crash near Tawang, Mr. Yechury said Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y. Rajshekhar Reddy and Lok Sabha Speaker G.M.C. Balayogi had also lost their lives in helicopter crashes.

He favoured a penal provision against those putting pressure on pilots to fly helicopters without proper clearances. “Conversely, strictest actions should be taken against those pilots/technicians who violate these requirements even under some kind of duress,'' he said.

Mr. Yechury said the committee was surprised to note that around 120 aircraft, which might include helicopters, were not capable of operating in hilly terrains as they lacked the necessary instruments.

The committee has recommended that the government address the issue of shortage of helicopter pilots on priority since the industry was gaining momentum rapidly. The committee felt that the government should appoint a panel of experts to review the present system of examination and procedures for giving licences to pilots. It noted that for monitoring proficiency of pilots operating over 250 helicopters, the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) was having just four helicopter inspectors on secondment basis from the industry.

Referring to the DGCA – Issues and Challenges, the committee noted that a large number of positions were lying vacant in the DGCA for years due to a prolonged procedure or non-availability of suitable candidates.

The committee has recommended creation of an independent authority for accident investigation on an urgent basis, as this would instil confidence among the travelling public. While pitching for strengthening of the DGCA by giving it more financial and administrative autonomy, the committee felt that the entire licensing system of the DGCA should be streamlined and made transparent by making it available in the public domain.


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