Aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) might not hold radio communication skill tests, also known as Radio Telephony exam, for pilots in 2024, according to sources.
On May 1, 2023, the Ministry of Communication, which presently conducts the test, officially handed over the responsibility of conducting the test to DGCA from 2024 onwards after aviation experts and pilots' bodies alleged lack of expertise and malpractices.
However, the regulator has initiated a process to scrap the post of officers responsible to hold the exam.
Radio communication skill tests, officially called Radio Telephony Restricted License or RTR(A) test, is conducted for pilots by the Wireless Planning & Coordination (WPC) wing of the Ministry of Communication to assess if they are fully trained to communicate with Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) for all kinds of situations.
Radio telephone is a communication system operated between air crew members and pilots to connect with ATCs and ground stations. This system is crucial for airline operators. Due to technical reasons, WPC has the authority to conduct this test.
Once a candidate clears RTR(A) test, he or she becomes eligible to get Flight Radio Telephone Operator (FTRO) licence from DGCA. Without an FTRO licence, a candidate cannot get a Commercial Pilot's Licence (CPL) from the aviation regulator.
In the past couple of years, the test was mired in controversy due to allegations by aviation experts and pilots' bodies such as the Federation of Indian Pilots that the examiners themselves lack practical knowledge and malpractices.
Amidst this backlash, the two ministries of communication and civil aviation had started discussions on working out a process to transfer the test to DGCA.
DGCA, in October 2022, created 56 posts which included two posts for Director (RTR), 18 posts for Deputy Director (RTR) and 36 posts for Assistant Director.
On May 1, 2023, the Ministry of Communication, officially handed over the responsibility to conduct radio communication skill tests to DGCA from 2024.
"We were expecting that after posts creation, the regulator will issue advertisements and start the process for filling them. However, much to our surprise, it has started surrendering these posts back to other departments, reasons best known to DGCA itself," a source in the Ministry of Civil Aviation told PTI.
"For instance, two posts for Director (RTR) have been surrendered to DGCA (Headquarter). Similarly, 18 posts of Deputy Director (RTR) have been distributed among various regional offices of DGCA in Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Nagpur etc," one of the sources said.
When contacted, Vikram Dev Dutt, Director General of DGCA, refused to offer any comment.
The sources claimed that with the current prevailing scenario in DGCA, it won't be able to take the test for another couple of years and, in such a situation, WPC will continue to hold the exam.
"This is a huge setback for people like us who have been fighting for so long to get this test transferred to DGCA. That's unfortunate. The Ministry of Civil Aviation should intervene and direct DGCA to expedite it," Captain S S Panesar, ex-pilot and former director of flight safety and training of erstwhile Indian Airline, said.
"I have come to know that the decision to surrender the post to other departments has been taken at a junior level and senior officers are not aware of it. If this is the case, then the current DG should take the corrective step. DGCA must start conducting this test in the interest of the aviation industry in India," he said.