Indian authorities are investigating cases of forged pilot licenses now that at least six people are found to have been flying without real credentials.
Cases of forged pilots' licenses are coming to light in India
A special audit is currently underway to examine the flying schools in the country and plug loopholes after at least six Indian pilots were found to be flying using fake documents. The probe widens as training and licensing procedures of all flying schools in the country are being examined in the wake of the fake pilot scare. India’s aviation regulator, the Director General of Civil Aviation says that licenses of 3,000 to 4,000 pilots are being scrutinized.
Many Indian students go to aviation school abroad
So far four pilots have been arrested for using fake certificates to gain licenses, including a pilot with national carrier Air India who had falsified his qualifications. Two other pilots are being investigated for irregularities in their flying licenses.
Bound to happen
VK Mathur is the former chairman of the Airports Authority of India and has served on the board of Air India. He maintains this was a situation that was bound to happen.
"It is a matter of very serious concern but it only highlights the fact that we have a system that is struggling to catch up with the growth in civil aviation which is completely unforeseen and completely unprecedented." Mathur adds, "With aviation having grown at rates of 25 to 30 percent over the last decade on a background of an average growth of 1.5 to 2 percent in earlier decades, we naturally have a systemic overload and this is the first symptom of it."
Between 3,000 and 4,000 pilots will be scrutinized
Bharat Bhushan, Director General of Civil Aviation tried to play down the scare, saying systems were in place to weed out culprits. He maintains, "These are just aberrations. We have over 10,000 commercial flying licenses that have been issued and nearly 5000 airline licenses that have been issued. And the cases that have come up are just a handful. Our system is still good, we have a regular protocol and we have a screening system but of course these cases have come to light. But I am sure these are more exceptions than the rule."
Fake licenses abroad
Some officials attribute the problem to some students going abroad to become pilots, only to obtain fake or invalid licenses. Furthermore, some flying schools may not abide by the rules of aviation regulatory authoritie.
While more pilots are coming under the scanner for forging their flight logs, the regulator has also cracked down on superannuated pilots operating passenger flights. Last week the aviation watchdog grounded nine senior pilots for operating scheduled passenger flights despite crossing their retirement age of 65.
A pilot with Air India had been using falsified qualifications
Captain Dilraj Bakshi who has been a pilot for 40 years in domestic and international airlines says the situation should not be blown out of proportion. He says there are always bad apples: "There is always going to be somebody or the other who is going to use unfair means...you cannot generalize the situation here. It is something which I think is demoralizing for the pilot. And a demoralized pilot is certainly not what we want in the cockpit!"
Air travel has boomed in India on the back of a growing economy, leading to the rise of a number of private airlines that have been struggling to hire pilots.
Author: Murali Krishnan
Editor: Sarah Berning