After 2 planes ferrying Union Ministers brushed disaster in 3 weeks, aviation watchdog orders probe, insists on strict obedience of air safety norms, warns violators of action
After two major mishaps involving aircraft ferrying Union ministers on poll campaigns were averted in the past three weeks, a concerned Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has stressed on strict adherence of safety guidelines.
The aviation regulatory body is investigating the reasons behind the two near misses -- one with Health Minister Salman Khurshid, the other with Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh -- that came despite a DGCA circular on meticulous observance of guidelines, keeping in mind the busy election season when politicians and public personalities tend to fly more frequently to campaign.
"Both the cases were brought to our notice and we are investigating the cause. We have already issued a detailed circular for the operation of small aircraft/helicopters in adherence to the safety guidelines during this election. We are also convinced that during elections, flight movements are planned randomly, sometimes in violation of the safety guidelines. If violations are found, we would be bound to take some harsh decisions [against airline operators]; we cannot put the life of VIPs in danger," said a DGCA source.
The sources confirmed that the regulatory body is scrutinising the entire flight schedule submitted by operators.
As per the circular, all non-scheduled/private helicopter operators and pilots should ensure that their licence and ratings are current and are certified to carry out operations, that at least 24 hours prior to commencing flight, the existence of a suitable helipad should be confirmed in writing from respective district authorities.
Deputy Director General (DDG), DGCA, Lalit Gupta said, "I am not aware of the updates on this particular case but any such case which is brought to our notice is investigated."
The first incident was reported at Lucknow airport on January 27, when an aircraft ferrying Union Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh and senior UP Congress leader Pramod Tewari, after landing at the airport, took a sudden turn and came close to an aircraft of Saudi Arabia Airlines that was lined up for departure.
The second incident happened at Amravati airport in the state where a chartered plane ferrying Union Minister for Health Ghulam Nabi Azad, Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee chief Manikrao Thakre and National General Secretary of Congress Mohan Prakash reported a tyre burst. The craft came to a halt only after getting dragged for one kilometer in the damaged condition.
The circular (File No AV 15011/2/2012) issued by DGCA chief E K Bharatbhushan dated Jan 13, 2012 states:
VIPs, SPG protected persons and persons of eminence use air travel frequently for electioneering in small aircraft/helicopters of private/non-scheduled operators. Election flying is a demanding exercise in terms of skill levels. Long flying hours, large number of take-offs and landings, weather changes, lack of proper rest and recuperation arrangements, hurriedly prepared helipads, frequent changes in itinerary, time management, stressed security arrangement, crowd control, congested airspace, lack of adequate communication and airspace management, commercial interest and language barrier are some of the challenges of election flying...
Analysis of earlier incidents at improvised airstrips/helipads revealed that instructions were violated time and again and safety was jeopardised.