The next time you take a flight, demand photocopies of licences, insurances, minimum equipment list and airworthiness documents to satisfy yourself that it’s safe to fly. Else, just walk off the aircraft. It’s the only weapon air travelers have to make a reasoned argument about deficiencies in airlines. And we have a responsibility to try and clean this mess
It is not amazing anymore what a weekend with some cricket can do to divert attention from real issues in India. Be it corruption scams, energy crisis, water shortage, or the latest on pilots with fake licences generated through methods used by much-maligned auto-rickshaw drivers. Actually, at least the
auto-rickshaw drivers are often honest about things, and now and then seem to also be part of attempts to improve or fix the system-as many of us would have observed by the slogans and couplets painted on their vehicles.
Have we ever seen any such attempts on airplanes? No way. Fancy in-flight magazines aside, nothing. The idea is-don't make noise. Mainstream media will not make a noise-airlines are among their largest advertisers, and besides, all those free seats and upgrades mean a lot too. Airline employee unions will not make noise-too many of their friends and family members want to be pilots, I guess,by any means possible. Airlines themselves will not make a noise-the idea is to simply remain technically "airworthy" and the insurance companies will look after the rest, and as for reputation, a new colour scheme as well as "re-branding" is good for everybody if an incident should occur.
And aircraft manufacturers, will they make a noise about their planes being flown by auto-rickshaw driver incarnates? No way! They have to-right you are-sell more planes. As simple as that. That the airline manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus, have been concerned about the issue of fake and even sub-standard pilots in and around India, has been open knowledge for some time now.
So now, time for airlines, manufacturers and their employees to go in for "noise abatement procedures", a process which we know airlines are good at. Meanwhile, a few junior to mid-level officials of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) will apparently carry the can; some more sacrifices shall be made to the Gods of Lucre, and life will go on. The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) will be prevailed upon not to place India on their blacklist (again), as India packs a punch there, and the "flying schools" will re-invent themselves.
And the head of the DGCA has the nerve to call this an "aberration". That's really, really, rich. Noisily rich.
The "noise" in Delhi this weekend has been all about the Mohali cricket match. And the attention has all been towards a summit on "luxury", which for those who go deeper into these things, is a desperate attempt by the purveyors of expensive beads and baubles to try and desperately recover from the sudden drop in sales in Japan and China-one due to the tsunami and the other due to a change in spending patterns. Cricket is cricket, in India, so that's something else. But on "luxury", an 80% discount at the Hugo Boss showroom close to where I live says it all-luxury is aspirational in India, but we want it at 80% discount.
On the other hand, the "non-noise" silence and ostrich-head-in-the-sand approach being taken by pilots as well as airlines in India, is not only deafening, it is positively criminal. Commercial pilots and their multiple associations and unions, who have in the past not hesitated from going in for labour action for minor and silly reasons and manipulated the media brilliantly, have simply not even bothered to comment or come before the media so far. Barring a few sad looking young pilots, bleating plaintively as they are escorted away to spend quality time with pickpockets and whores, complaining that they spent so much money and now deserve sympathy-nothing.
As for the airlines, it seems as if they are treating this issue as nothing more than a bad smell which may soon pass away like a whiff of smoke, so that they can go back to their business. Barring the suspension or sacking of a few pilots, the rest has been one rapid cover-up operation-business as usual, and resolve as quickly the minor issues of passengers suddenly looking into the cockpit to see what the pilot really looks like. After all, they know the truth. It is not just the young recently employed pilots who were working on fake licences. Look around, check out some of the older and senior pilots, do a double-check on the engineers and figure out. Better to close ranks and not make waves-or clear air turbulence, in this case.
Not that there aren't good and qualified people in the aviation industry in India. Sure there are. But the truth be simply told, they were and are aware of what is going on, and have all been in some way or
the other, compromised. The rot is so deep that anybody who speaks or breathes against it internally is going to suffer.
However, in all this, the one major stakeholder who has been royally ignored is the air passenger. Yes, there is some sort of an Air Passengers Association of India (APAI), of which I am a member, which seems to be more interested only in an MLM kind of scheme to bring more members into the fold. So what can we, as passengers, with our lives in the hands of these fake and substandard pilots and their employers, do? Especially on domestic flights, where we have no options?
Here's a short primer, and if you are going on a domestic flight in the near future, you are well advised to read it as well as try to practise it. This is going to be the only way to force airlines and their unions to come out and take a reasoned, as well as pro-consumer stand on an issue that cannot be just brushed under the carpet again, with repeated interviews and quotes from the same old tired faces at the DGCA and in the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA).
1) Understand that the all-in-one cover-up term used by an airline to see that they adhere to matters is "airworthy". Without being "airworthy", an aircraft is simply not supposed to be flying on commercial flights, with passengers onboard. A great bunch of papers this.
However, the term "airworthy" is like elastic by definition, used more to keep the insurance companies, accountants, bankers and regulators happy, and it is stretched by most airlines. One way they do this is to operate flights on the basis of "MEL" exemptions. "MEL" means "minimum equipment list", and the usual way for airlines to flout this is to claim that they require to operate for a few more flights, till the spares come in. Or, by taking repeated exemptions.
You need to simply ask, and if possible get it in writing before your flight, whether your aircraft is airworthy at all times when you are on board, and before boarding, if there are any MEL exemptions in force by the airline, and why. Ask the cabin crew to get this list from the pilot-you are entitled to it-and if there are MELs in force, then you are entitled not to fly if you do not wish to take the risk.
2) While asking for the pilot's licence and confirming the insurance status for an aircraft on a scheduled flight may appear to be far-fetched, the fact remains that you are entitled to know about both these matters before boarding. As a matter of fact, the DGCA website keeps an updated record of these two items, and you can refer to it before boarding, once you spot the registration data of the aircraft.
In reality of course, with specific aircraft being allotted for certain flights at the last minute, and boarding being carried out very often through means wherein you cannot really see the aircraft registration data, this may not be possible unless you ask to be shown what the registration marks are. Since it is likely that you will not be able to check this before boarding, it may be worth your while to note down the aircraft registration data as well as the pilot's licence information, both of which you are entitled to source as a bonafide passenger onboard, and do a post-facto check online.
3) Be fully aware that the "best practice" that airlines follow has everything to do only with keeping the paperwork pertaining to the airworthiness of the aircraft in order, in flight-pre-flight as well as post facto. That's one reason they are running around keeping very quiet. Because, if any passenger seeks to know from the DGCA, through a Right to Information (RTI) application, whether the flight he or she was on was operated by a fake pilot, and if it is found that it was, then the particular aircraft becomes non-airworthy from that point onwards. It is like saying, hey, we know there was a performing monkey in our cockpit for months and months, but we now haven't re-verified if the monkey did any damage or not.
Take out your flight log for the past few months and write to the DGCA with a copy to the airline, to ask them if the flights you took were fully air-worthy or not. And if they weren't because some fake pilot was at the helm, what have they done to make the aircraft airworthy since then?
4) Most important, airline advertisements and strategy in the past stressed a lot on the safety aspect. Some of the better airlines-Qantas is an example, Singapore Airlines is another-still do. Have you observed how airlines in India are lately doing everything other than even remotely mentioning "safety". One reason for this is that we do not ask. And so airlines try to hide behind the excuse that they use DGCA-licenced pilots, while being fully aware that there was and still is a big question mark hanging over the reliability of DGCA. Especially on its past and current track record on licencing.
The question we need to ask airlines openly, on this forum as well as through individual letters, is simple: Will they make their safety-related parameters and data open to the flying public, and if no, why not?
There is a lot more that we can and have to do to out civil aviation in the country back on an even keel. Staying quiet about things, and becoming accomplices in airlines hopes that matters will simply blow away, is not an option we should quietly accept. So, when on your next flight demand photocopies of licences, insurances, MELs, and airworthiness documents. Or just walk off the aircraft. The ONLY weapon we have as customers is to make a reasoned and very public argument about deficiencies with airlines.
Be a part of the change, instead of just another victim in the back seat. You can do this politely, without aggression. After all, the complete Gulati episode, apparently, started with a similar passenger feedback to the DGCA. And see the change it brought about.
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Birla Sun Life Foresight ULIP: Is this the start of a new concept in the market?
LIC Samridhi Plus offers highest NAV-a new plan based on an old idea
Bajaj Allianz Cash Rich: A traditional plan can never make you cash rich
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Reckitt Benckiser Plc will set up a new, wholly-owned subsidiary investing company with a 100% foreign equity to make a downstream investment to fully acquire Paras Pharma
New Delhi: The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) today approved fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) giant Reckitt Benckiser's plan to invest around Rs3,300 crore via a subsidiary to fund its acquisition of Paras Pharmaceuticals, reports PTI.
A meeting of the CCEA held here cleared the proposal of Reckitt Benckiser Plc to set up a new, wholly-owned subsidiary investing company with a 100% foreign equity to make a downstream investment to fully acquire Paras Pharma.
"The approval is expected to result in foreign direct investment (FDI) amounting to Rs3,300 crore approximately in the wholly-owned subsidiary of Reckitt Benckiser Plc UK," an official statement said
In December last year, Reckitt Benckiser had agreed to fully acquire Ahmedabad-based Paras Pharmaceuticals for Rs3,260 crore.
The shares of the new subsidiary will be 100% subscribed by Reckitt Benckiser (Singapore) (entire equity except 10 shares) and R&C Nominees (10 shares), it added.
Paras Pharma is a privately-owned firm with a portfolio of leading over-the-counter health and personal care brands including, Moov, D'Cold, Dermicool, Krack, Itch Guard and Ring Guard.
It also has a personal care business led by Set Wet, a leading hair gel and deodorant brand.
Reckitt Benckiser had acquired the firm as to expand its business in India.