Centre Bars Veteran Pilots With Investigation Experience From Joining Air Accident Probe Body

Aviation experts say that considering the important role the AAIB is expected to play, the selection pool ought to be wider and professionals need to be trained at international centres
Centre Bars Veteran Pilots With Investigation Experience From Joining Air Accident Probe Body

The Centre’s move to fill up crucial positions in the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) has attracted sharp criticism from veteran pilots from the civil and defence aviation space over several issues, including the required qualification.

On May 11, the Ministry of Civil Aviation, under which India’s sole probe agency for serious air incidents and accidents falls, released a public advertisement to recruit director general, directors, deputy directors, assistant directors and safety investigation officers in the AAIB. However, the eligibility criteria have become a bone of contention. Requirements such as holding analogous posts in government bodies and adequate work experience have been listed. There is more emphasis on various streams of engineering, such as aeronautical, electronics, mechanical and electrical, with experience in aviation safety.

For instance, to qualify for the post of director general, the candidate needs to have a similar post in any government body along with a bachelor's degree in engineering, 15 years of work experience in air safety and four years of experience in the investigation of air accidents and incidents. Safety experts, however, say that instead of 15 years of experience in air safety, similar experience in administration, finance and management can be considered as a good substitute for the post.

Widening The Pool

Many experienced pilots also allege that the criteria have been formed in such a way that a wide range of air safety professionals, who are crucial to the investigation, get eliminated. “The pay band, analogue level and other such conditions limit the selection pool to a few hundred people serving in government and semi-government organisations,” says Group Captain (retd) Ajay Ahlawat, who has served in the Indian Air Force for several years.

Ahlawat adds that the eligibility criteria for top positions in the AAIB practically eliminates the entire private sector, including airlines, non-scheduled operators and veteran military pilots. “It is a no-brainer that an experienced pilot ought to be included in an organisation designed to investigate air accidents,” he says.

Aviation experts say that considering the important role that the AAIB is expected to play, the selection pool ought to be wider, allowing pilots from civil aviation and military aviation with exposure to air safety aspects to apply. Some have even pleaded with the ministry to review the qualifications required and consider widening the scope.

Retired air commodore B.S. Siwach, a veteran who has earned distinguished recognitions such as the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal, Yudh Seva Medal and Vayu Sena Medal, says that the eligibility criteria appear to be flawed as the inputs received by the ministry to develop them seem to have been given by professionals with a vested interest. “Basically, an accident investigation should be carried out by an experienced pilot who should also be the head of the investigation team. Experienced and qualified engineers should be part of the team as team members. Engineers or air traffic control-experienced personnel cannot do justice to an investigation without an experienced pilot,” says Siwach, who also runs an organisation called the Air Safety Management Society of India, where he trains aviation professionals in air safety protocols.

Professionalism Under Radar

Since its inception in 2012, the AAIB has always functioned under the sanctioned strength of investigators and also received criticism from safety experts for having safety professionals on an ad hoc basis. Veteran Air India pilot Captain S.S. Panesar, who retired after serving as an air safety officer, questions several probe reports of accidents and incidents released by the AAIB. “It lacks a professional approach and tries to cover up the shortcomings of the aviation sector so that the blame shifts on someone else, such as pilots, and the real issues remain unheeded. I am appalled to see the AAIB’s enquiry report of the Calicut crash of 2020 and minor incident to an aircraft at Trichy of 2018,” says Panesar.

Ahlawat agrees. “An analysis of reports generated by the AAIB in the last few years tell you that the quality of investigation leaves much to be desired. The recommendations barely scratch the surface. There is no attempt or capability to uncover the deeper cause behind serious accidents,” he says, adding that more rules and regulations in the already stifling aviation regulatory landscape will not prevent future accidents.

To enhance the efficiency of the AAIB, air safety experts suggest that it can be made better by including professionals, improving work culture by enhancing transparency and instituting processes that are fair, transparent and efficient. “We need a full-time director general from a flying and accident investigation background, experienced pilots and aeronautical engineers as directors and other members. It is essential to have a doctor also as part of the AAIB,” opines Siwach, adding that the AAIB needs to develop laboratories and other facilities for proper analysis of data and causes of accidents.

Siwach says that since India lacks the necessary expertise, the officials should be trained at reputed international air accident agencies, such as the National Transportation Safety Board of the USA, the Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis of France and the Air Accidents Investigation Branch of the UK.

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