Bloomberg: Pilots Qualified to Fly in India After Just 35 Minutes in Air


plane cockpitAnupam Verma has a certificate that shows he has flown an aircraft for 360 hours. He says he got it after sitting in the co-pilot’s seat for just 35 minutes.

He’s one of dozens of pilots in the country who obtained certificates showing inflated flying hours and ground training, according to court documents and interviews with pilots, regulators and industry analysts. The son of a poor farmer, Verma was given a 2.8 million-rupee ($44,000) subsidy by the Indian government to learn to fly a commercial jet.

“What if I was flying and had an emergency? I wouldn’t even know how or where to land,” Verma, 25, said in an interview. “We’d kill not only the passengers, but we might crash in a village and kill even more people.”

The spotlight on aviation safety has swung from aircraft reliability to pilot reliability in the past few years after a series of disasters that were thought to be either deliberate acts of destruction, or the result of inadequate training. The latest, in March, killed 150 people when Germanwings co-pilot Andreas Lubitz appears to have locked his captain out of the cockpit and flown his jet into a mountain.

Last year, a Malaysia Airlines jet with 239 on board mysteriously changed course en-route to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur and headed off for thousands of kilometers into the Indian Ocean. The plane still hasn’t been found and the cause of the disaster remains unknown.

Concern about the quality of India’s pilots has been building over the past decade as a proliferation of budget airlines created demand for hundreds of new pilots. In 2011, the government reviewed the licenses of all 4,000-plus airline pilots in the country, as police investigated at least 18 people suspected of using forged documents to win promotions or certification. The findings of the review were not made public.

“The fudging of log books is rampant both in airlines and in flying clubs,” said Mohan Ranganathan, a former commercial pilot and aviation safety consultant based in Chennai. He said the 2011 audit found violations in most flying clubs in the country. “Hours were logged with aircraft not even in airworthy condition. One aircraft had no engines but several hundred hours were logged.”

Asked about the continued use of fake certificates, India’s Director General of Civil Aviation, M. Sathiyavathy, said on April 24 the directorate would be conducting a new audit that would require the “recertification of all the flying schools.”

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