Passengers of an airline in financial trouble have reason to worry a little more about flight safety. In India, it’s common knowledge that most airlines are in the red. Of late, reports of near-hits, landing mishaps and dangerous miscommunication between pilots and ground control have also been frequent. Both have contributed equally to passengers’ fears. What’s less known—and cause for greater worry—is that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), responsible for overseeing aviation safety, is itself a distressed organisation: 528 of the 924 posts at DGCA lie vacant. So at a time when most airlines need watching, the airline safety controller is woefully short-staffed. Part of the problem, says Arun Mishra, the current director general, is that there aren’t any recruitment rules for 427 posts in job Groups A, B and C, created in 2009. Recruitment rules for some other posts too, he says, need amendment.
Industry experts say the DGCA staff crunch raises huge questions about aviation safety in the country. Last year, the US Federal Aviation Administration had threatened to downgrade India in its international aviation safety assessment programme. The chief reason: DGCA’s staff shortage. Some even say the shortage is responsible for pilots with fake licences getting jobs. “The shortage has been critical for some time now and needs urgent action if efficiency has to be maintained,” says a former pilot and aviation safety expert. “All airlines will try to cut corners when finances are bad and it is the DGCA’s job to be watchful.”