Appalling State of Affairs at DGCA: Central Information Commission

  • India’s DGCA Could Not Save its Own DATA
  • The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the regulatory body entrusted with air safety operations in India, has lost all vital data related to pilots and aircraft safety.
  • This is being attributed to a ‘massive server crash’.
  • This so-called great plane data crash occurred following a massive software crash sometime in August 2015.

In August 2015, the Bombay High Court had directed the DGCA to submit a list of pilots who have obtained their commercial pilot license after submitting bogus certificates.

This was in a response to a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by Dr Manisha Kanagali seeking to highlight the fraud played by commercial pilots on airlines for obtaining employment by submitting forged documents. Kanagali highlighted the case of her brother Captain Ajay Khadtale who obtained bogus Class XII certificate from a Bihar educational institute to obtain CPL from DGCA and employment from Air India. Khadtale had been flying since 18 years. Her petition had said that no action was being taken against him by DGCA and AI. Failure to take action sent a message to the public at large that were being piloted by fake pilots and their lives were at risk; adding that reluctance to take action against him had emboldened other pilots who also might have submitted forged documents. The PIL pointed out that there were hundreds of such cases of fake pilots. It was therefore necessary for a CBI probe.

In January 2017, the DGCA came up with a response : ‘a massive software crash sometime in August 2015.’

According to a senior DGCA official, ‘The data was on NIC (National Informatics Centre) server, which crashed about two years ago and thus the data got destroyed. NIC could not recover that data. We do possess some of the records in the physical form. However, under our program eDGCA, only the current renewals and issuance of new licenses are digitised now.’

This was in a response to an RTI filed by activist Anil Sood. The DGCA had to disclose that its entire data set pertaining to safety and security of planes and pilots has been lost. The servers crashed in August 2015 and all information regarding the list of commercial pilot licence holders registered with the DGCA and type rating test (TRT) certified pilots registered with the DGCA got destroyed.

Needless to mention, such a loss of flight data at such a massive scale may have serious implications not only on passenger safety but also on national security.

The DGCA conducts exams for pilots and engineers and awards CPLs and licenses. But when its own affairs are put under scrutiny, it cuts a sorry figure. The Central Information Commission too, in its observation to the RTI, came up with an apt remark – ‘this was an appalling state of affairs in respect of record keeping by the respondent public authority, especially when it concerns national security and safety of passengers.’ It advised the DGCA to be more diligent in maintain its sensitive data.

The information commissioner has stated: ‘In the interest of the safety and security, not only of the passengers but also in the larger national interest, the DGCA is advised to maintain data in respect of all the pilots in different categories licensed by the public authority in a digitised format.’

International airports across the world are treated as high-security zones in the wake of rising terror incidents.

India has about 11 critical airfields, where, according to DGCA rules, only TRT certified pilots are allowed for take-offs and landings. These airports are at Mangalore, Leh, Kullu Manali, Shimla, Agartala, Port Blair, Calicut, Aizawl (Mizoram), Patna, Jammu and Latur.

Since 2000, India has witnessed two major air crashes at Mangalore and Patna airports. Mangalore Airport is the most disastrous airport in India. It has a table top runway. The Mangalore crash of 22nd May 2010 is classified among the Top 10 deadliest air crash in last decade that led to the death of 158 passengers on board. In 2000, 60 people were killed when Alliance Air Flight 7412 crashed near Patna airport prior to landing.

These data are also more important as it has serious implications on national security as well. Experts say loss of data which involves the safety and security of passengers is a cause of grave concerns in the wake of several cases of irregularities including cases of ‘fake pilots’. Anybody can use the identity of another pilot by merely replacing a photograph. Logging of duty time and flying hours can be fuzzed, if there is no digital backup.’

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