Establish a safety culture by removing DGCA's sweeping powers for the pilot's suspension

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Capt. Amit Singh  FRAeS
Capt. Amit Singh FRAeS signed this petition

In 2019, over approx.40 pilots (not including the BA+ve cases) in India have been suspended for a period of 6-12 months under Aircraft Rules 1937, rule 19(3). This brazen action has been taken without conducting and disclosing an investigation from a human factor point of view which aims to determine the root causes. 

A Just Culture recognizes that systemic factors (not just individual actions) must be considered in the evaluation of safety performance and interpretation of human behaviour. A strong Just Culture in each aviation organization is perceived as the basis for a successful safety culture.(ICAO Assembly-39th session)

Principles of DGCA India Enforcement Policy

The ‘Public Trust Doctrine’ is based on the concept that the powers held by Government officers are, in fact, powers that originate with the people, and are entrusted/ delegated to the government officers only as a means of exercising governance and with the sole objective that such powers shall be exercised in good faith for the benefit of the people.

Powers exercised contrary to the ‘Public Trust Doctrine’ would amount to an abuse of powers and contravene the rule of law.

In the process of ensuring enforcement, the officers shall invariably be guided by the following principles:

  1. Natural Justice and Accountability
  2. Impartiality
  3. Proportionality

In the exercise of his discretion, the Officer/Inspector should be guided by the following general approach (DGCA Enforcement Manual, Introduction):

  1. A person who reports making an honest mistake should generally not be prosecuted or fined, nor should their licence, certificate or authority be suspended or cancelled for reasons of punishment.
  2. There should be a measured response to less serious contraventions of the safety rules and procedures which may involve counselling and training rather than either criminal prosecution or the suspension or cancellation of licences, certificates or authorities or imposition of any monetary penalties.
  3. People who consciously and willfully choose to operate outside the rules or procedures and thereby put the lives of members of the public including the passengers or property at risk should be prosecuted and removed from the industry.

Whereas the State is bound by the Civil Aviation Rules to promoting a safety culture, the rule 19(3) gives sweeping power to DGCA to suspend any license if the central government is satisfied that there is sufficient ground for doing so for any period of time.

Aircraft Rule 19(3) must be redrafted to include the tenets of just culture.

  1. The current provision "central government is satisfied that there are sufficient grounds to do so" must be changed to "if the preliminary or final investigation finds sufficient evidence of gross negligence or willful violations".
  2. If the preliminary investigation is not complete and disclosed, the maximum period of suspension must be limited to 90 days.  

Just culture in aviation is a culture in which personnel are not punished for actions, omissions or decisions taken by them which are commensurate with their experience and training, but where gross negligence, wilful violations and destructive acts are not tolerated. (CIVIL AVIATION REQUIREMENTS SECTION 1 – GENERAL SERIES 'C' PART I Issue II, 27th July 2017).

India State Safety Policy enumerates that DGCA will implement proactive and as far as possible predictive strategies encouraging all stakeholders/ service providers to understand the benefits of a safety culture, which should be based on an inclusive reporting culture. DGCA will foster and assist stakeholders in developing comprehensive Safety Management Systems (SMS) and will develop preventive safety strategies for the aviation system in an environment of a “just culture”. 

Supreme court of India has passed a judgement in the Ajay Kumar Choudhary vs Union Of India litigation case limiting the period of suspension without charges to 90 days. The court observed that protracted periods of suspension, repeated renewal thereof, have regrettably become the norm and not the exception that they ought to be. The suspended person suffering the ignominy of insinuations, the scorn of society and the derision of his Department, has to endure this excruciation even before he is formally charged with some misdemeanour, indiscretion or offence. His torment is his knowledge that if and when charged, it will inexorably take an inordinate time for the inquisition or enquiry to come to its culmination, that is to determine his innocence or iniquity.

The intent of the regulation must be to ensure fairness in the system prevails. Action taken to preserve the safety must be based on an investigation which determines the root causes and systemic failures and not targets an individual or a group.

Members of FIP could write to president@fipindia.com  treasurer@fipindia.com secretary@fipindia.com so that they too can take up this issue unitedly.