Air India has discovered that as many as 102 pilots of its wide body Boeing fleet have been flying without clearing a mandatory test that helps keep their licences valid and without which the same lapse.
The airline informed the downgraded-by-US directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA) which, worryingly, failed to detect on its own the flying by so many pilots with lapsed licences.
The AI admission comes on the heels of the regulator last month finding that 131 Jet Airways pilots were also flying without clearing a mandatory biannual exam - meaning on a lapsed licence.
The DGCA had ordered Jet to remove its chief of training due to this serious lapse.
Which means, over 250 pilots have been caught flying with lapsed licences in less than two months and this may be just the tip of the iceberg!
Admitting the lapse of its training department, AI wrote to DGCA saying that the route check of the 102 pilots was not done as per the required schedule that rendered their licences unfit for flying. "Keeping in view... overall shortage of pilots in the airline, we request you to kindly view the lapse sympathetically and renew the lapsed licenses of our pilots at the earliest in order for us to utilize them for flying duties (and) maintain our schedule," AI wrote to the DGCA recently.
The regulator, which should have been able to detect that over 100 pilots wee flying with lapsed licences, is now in damage control mode. Caught sleeping just a month before the US Federal Aviation Administration reviews its downgrade, the DGCA has asked AI to provide information on licence and training status of the pilots of the narrow body Airbus A-320 aircraft. Sources say that the regulator is unhappy with AI training department's 'casual' approach.
"Being a public sector organization, AI training department perhaps felt that a fellow government agency like DGCA will not act against it. But given the scale of action against Jet, they may prove to be wrong," said a source.
In fact, a confidential note has been put up to AI management on this issue by the airline's other departments that are facing the heat from the regulator now. "A very serious lapse has been going on in the training department... Please (ask training) to explain the lapse and retrieve the situation to avoid any reprimand from the DGCA and to avoid any media snowball," the confidential note accessed by TOI says.
The 131 pilots of Jet Airways were found to be flying even after expiry of validity of their last pilot proficiency check (PPC), a test that is required to be given every six months. Pilots are not supposed to fly without a valid PPC.