Arun Mishra takes over as Director General of Civil Aviation at a time when questions are being raised on its leniency with airlines. Being also grossly understaffed, it faces an International Civil Aviation Organisation safety audit this December. The new DG talks to Disha Kanwar on these and other issues. Edited excerpts:
What action are you planning on Kingfisher (KFA), mired in financial problems and thus probably also compromising on safety?
The last audit report had said we would follow with another audit, due in August-September. I am concerned with safety. The moment I have conclusive proof that the operation is unsafe, I will stop it. There is no conclusive proof right now.
DGCA’s intention is not to catch and kill an airline, but to improve safety. Whenever we do an audit, we find problems and then we ask the airline to rectify that problem and we see if it has complied.
What about cannibalisation of aircraft and non-payment of salaries by KFA?
There is a misconception about cannibalisation. It is done everywhere and is not disallowed by DGCA. It is just that when a part is taken out from one plane to another, the airlines is supposed to keep records of both the planes. As far as the salary is concerned, it is not in DGCA’s domain.
There has been criticism that the DGCA is very lenient with safety standards, not just with KFA but with other airlines, too.
You see our accident record and that will tell you if we are a lax regulator. Of course, there are other ways to judge safety, but the most important is the accident record. It is quite good; in the past two years, these are mainly in helicopters. Many were primarily because they did not follow the SOP (Standard Operating Procedures).
There are many officials in DGCA against whom an enquiry is on. Of 130 officials, 20 to 25 are implicated on account of illegal use of their posts. Will they continue to serve in DGCA?
They will continue to serve till the ministry completes its enquiry.
DGCA is to be audited by the ICAO this December. The audit will determine for other countries if India is safe for flying. How are you preparing for that audit, with DGCA highly understaffed and the aviation rules archaic?
We have set up a task force here and have drawn people from outside. On a daily basis, a big effort has been made to prepare ourselves for this audit.
DGCA is highly understaffed. We have 130 permanent officials and 100 are contractual ones. Our strength is 230. We require 500 people. I hope, within a year, we should be able to fill the posts. We are going to take some experienced people who are retired on a contractual basis till we recruit permanent people. We are also getting some people on deputation also from Air India and the Airports Authority of India.
We are also looking into modifying the archaic aircraft law of 1932. We need to get rid of provisions no longer relevant. We are latecomers to aviation and there are developed countries in the sector. They have made rules, regulations and systems which have stood the test of time.
Our job is simple, that we take the best practices; we don’t have to go through experimentation. That is the advantage in aviation, as we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Definitely, it is a challenge, but I am quite sure we will do it.
What will be your priority in safety during the initial part of your tenure?
Particularly in operations, which include flight standards and airworthiness of aircraft and procedures at the airport, air traffic management, training institutions and the quality of training imparted in these.
We have very strict requirements for licensing and I would like to implement them for safe operations.
Another important aspect would be frequent collaboration and interaction with the industry to understand their needs and nurture it. Whatever we do has to be safe and sustainable.
When DGCA asks airlines to check their fares, don’t you think it hardly makes any sense, as the price band of a ticket is so wide and airlines are always within that band?
Statutorily, we can’t ask airlines to check fares, as these are deregulated. We understand that competition will take care of fares. DGCA says this as there are also clauses for consumer protection.
Arun Mishra declined to be photographed for this interview