Blaming just the pilots for the serious accidents, may not be the right approach, say industry experts
The past few months have seen a spate of pilot suspensions. On September 18 alone, five pilots were suspended - two from Pawan Hans and three from IndiGo - by the industry regulator DGCA.
In September till now, at least seven have already been suspended.
A report by The Print, quoting DGCA officials, said that 41 pilots have been suspended till August this year, for their actions that led to 'serious accidents.' That is a huge jump from just 11 suspensions, over the same period last year.
And if one takes in number of pilots suspended for all the reasons, including failing the breathalyser test, the total number of suspensions climb to over 70, in these eight months.
"This is alarmingly high. Last when so many suspensions happened was in 2016," said Amit Singh, an industry veteran and Fellow of London's Royal Aeronautical Society.
Both the sets of numbers are alarming. Recently, two Air India pilots were suspended for failing the alcohol test. In fact, they refused to take the test.
At the same time, industry observers question if only pilots can be blamed for the 'serious incidents.'
"Pilots are easy targets," says Singh, who has held senior positions at IndiGo and AirAsia India. "And it is doubtful if the DGCA is following the correct protocol in investigations that have led to the suspensions," he adds.
He cites the example of two SpiceJet pilots who were suspended in July. Their aircraft had veered to the right after landing at the Kolkata airport, and broke runway lights.
"The license of the two pilots has been suspended for a period of six months. But what is the reason for the suspension? Suspension without a reason is unjust and a misuse beyond the granted statutory power," says Singh.
He adds that the law required DGCA to give in writing, the specific reason for the suspension. But the order suspending the SpiceJet pilots doesn't include any. It mentions that the pilots' reply to the show cause notice, was not found satisfactory.
A suspension affects a pilot in multiple ways.
A pilot doesn't get his monthly flying allowance during the suspension. That is important because this allowance sometimes makes up for about 70 percent of the salary. During this period, the pilot only gets the basic salary and a few other incentives.
Some airlines also require suspended pilots to re-qualify to get their prior designation.
Responsibility of airlines
Many of these incidents can happen due to systematic failure, and it's not just the pilots but other officials - including ATC executives - that are part of a decision that has gone wrong.
"Airlines are not questioned and airlines don't question the DGCA either," says Singh.Another executive from the industry pointed out that many of the airlines are reluctant to review their safety management system. "Even fatigue can lead to pilots making a wrong decision and fatigue sets in because airlines don't have a proper fatigue management system," the official added.