The Civil Aviation Policy must begin by looking at the regulatory and fiscal framework that would ensure that all stakeholders are aligned to enhance the two identified key issues of air safety and financial viability
The heartening news is that in the near future, the Indian air traveller is going to be better connected to more destinations and have more options to choose from. We will also see an increase in the number of commercial aircraft flying and the number of airlines operating. The aviation industry is a complex, hyper-dynamic, high-tech behemoth where there is zero tolerance for error. It has spawned, like most other industries, its own groups, cliques and power centres that at times, pull in directions that have a detrimental effect on the entire industry. This article is aimed at bringing into focus some of the challenges that confront present-day civil aviation in India and to help the appropriate authority in ensuring more efficiency with higher standards of safety.
Paramount amongst all issues, when talking of aviation, is one of air safety. In the past few years, there have been a number of fatal accidents snuffing out hundreds of innocent lives. Many of these accidents could have been avoided if planners, managers and regulators had a better understanding of the dynamics of the man-machine interface. Indian airspace is going to see an increase in the number of aircraft flying, hence air space management, arrivals and departures at airports must be made more efficient for safe operations.
Probably the next most important issue is the one of finance. We at times feel rather shy of acknowledging that financial viability is essential for all concerned. Once this is accepted optimisation of resources will become the normal way of life, as would competence and efficiency.
The Ministry of Civil Aviation is making valiant attempts at addressing the many issues involved and needs the support of individuals and companies who have the knowledge but do not carry the baggage of vested interests. The planners and decision makers have to face the harsh reality of dealing with a relatively unknown subject and with those who have the knowledge and experience, unable at times, to break the shackles of their own affiliations. Presently in India, the base of the Civil aviation industry rests on three managerial pillars that have the task of policy formulation, regulation and facilitation. These are:
The other ‘pillars’ are the various operators that are:
Each of these pillars needs to be examined to assess and ensure that they can perform their tasks. A conducive atmosphere is needed for the anticipated growth of the sector to take place. A quick peep into the functioning of ‘the pillars’.
The MoCA needs to internally review the new Civil Aviation Policy to ensure that all the ‘pillars’ are equally strengthened to keep the base from toppling. The Civil Aviation Policy must begin by looking at the regulatory and fiscal framework that would ensure that all stakeholders are aligned to enhance the two identified key issues of air safety and financial viability. The financial burden must be equally spread to ensure that no single ‘pillar’ is over laden. Therefore, taxation and expenditure must be controlled and monitored to ensure sustainability. Eventually, the citizens pay, either by way of tax or airline tickets.
In India, the organisational structure for control of civil aviation flows from the MoCA under the Government of India (GoI). The Regulator is the DGCA which functions under the MoCA. It is the DGCA which is mandated and empowered to formulate policy, ensure compliance, facilitate and promote civil aviation. This is a crucial mandate and the DGCA plays a vital role in every aspect of a company operating an aero plane. The aviation sector is growing in India and the GoI must ensure that the regulator is competent to play a visionary role in ensuring that the many issues that can fuel the growth of the industry are addressed.
Both the key issues of air safety and financial viability will only be addressed by a regulator if the policy makers have a clear understanding of the different ‘pillars’ that it is going to regulate. Unfortunately, the selection of the post holders in DGCA has been very random with scarce regard being given to the “competence” of the appointed post holder. Work experience or flying experience are conspicuous by their absence. It is not surprising then that the post holders are not in a position to understand even the most trivial of professional flying matters. One wonders then as to how the regulator would perform its key function of ensuring safe operations and financial viability in the context of planning and regulation.
Airports Authority of India (AAI)
The AAI, under the MoCA provides the critical infrastructure to ensure smooth transit of flights from departures to arrivals and of passengers at terminals. The problem is that the concentration has been on passenger transit facilities whilst the much more critical issue of aircraft departure, arrival and en route facilities have been given less attention. The impact of this is that as the density of flights increases, as it will in the near future, so will the delays and passenger comfort. Large sums of money are being spent by AAI on having new passenger terminals without analysing the data of actual passenger flow.
The need of the hour is to have more thought and finance spent on providing better terminals and approach aids
The need of the hour is for AAI to have more thought and finance spent on providing better terminals and approach aids to facilitate smoother flow in higher traffic density scenarios especially during bad weather. A case in point is Vadodara Airport which has a new multi-crore terminal being built, when the existing terminal was adequate for projected passenger density. But Vadodara does not even have an approach radar. Such examples abound in the corridors of AAI, with no check on the misuse of taxpayers’ money. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) must look into the absolute misuse of large funds by the AAI as eventually all these expenses add to the price the citizen has to pay for flying. The bigger issue, however, is that in the absence of navigational aids, operations are conducted in sub-optimal conditions where the first casualty is air safety.
Managements of airlines need to become more efficient in their functioning. It is seen that in the same environment one airline posts profits while another stalls financially. The reasons for failure revolve around poor conceptualisation and horrific human resource management techniques. When a management fails to understand human factors and adopts policies where the human element is ignored, problems are bound to surface.
A major flaw in some of the airlines which collapsed was the adoption of a policy which based its financial model on a low-cost concept. The attempt to sell this idea led to some very dangerous misconceptions and should have actually been disallowed by the regulator. These operators attempted to mislead the Indian citizen by projecting that flying is very cheap and this took the industry up the garden path. At the outset the regulator should have stepped in but that did not happen and the airline(s) collapsed.
What some of us do not realise is that in the period before an airline actually stops operation due to a financial reason, it goes through a period of a financial crunch. Salaries are not paid, maintenance short cuts are taken and safety is compromised, putting innocent lives at risk. There is no such thing as low-cost in aviation. There is, however, optimum pricing which is very competitive in the travel scenario and gives the passenger a timesaving alternative when compared to travel by surface transport. Saving time is saving money.
This is a sector which has the highest growth potential and needs to be encouraged and supported by putting in place policies that give the right incentives. The folly that the operators need to avoid is to follow the path chosen by some operators who did not have even the basic research correct on the traffic densities.
Non-Scheduled, Private Operators and FTOs
The DGCA needs to be commended in this area as there has been a concerted effort to improve the operations of all these three ‘pillars’. The most significant of these is the FTOs who actually provide a bulk of the pilots to the industry. The FTOs too have been forced to pull up their socks and this approach must be applied to all the ‘pillars’ of this structure. Initial and subsequent pilot training is a crucial factor directly impacting safety and the correct steps are being taken to ensure that there are no compromises in this area.
The MRO sector is another core area with considerable potential. Here too, there is need to have a policy which supports the establishment of very high cost infrastructure. The increase in projected number of aeroplanes in India will most certainly lead to an increase in the requirement of MRO facilities.
At the end of the day, it is the right of the citizens of this great country to be given a world-class aviation sector which is recognised as an ‘engine of growth’. The onus of striking a balanced and regulated growth rests on the MoCA. However, professionals in the industry must take an overview outside their own narrow boxes to create win-win situations for all the players and stakeholders.