On 16 January 2017, an RTI was filed by activist Anil Sood. An appalling state of affairs at the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the regulatory body entrusted with air safety operations in the country was then revealed. The DGCA disclosed that its entire data set pertaining to safety and security of planes and pilots had been lost. All information regarding the list of commercial pilot licence holders registered with the DGCA and type rating test (TRT) certified pilots registered with the DGCA got destroyed.
That was India’s great plane data crash. The DGCA had lost all info related to pilots and aircraft safety after that massive server crash.
The DGCA Response.
The DGCA explanation was, ‘The data was on NIC (national informatics centre) server, which crashed in August 2015 and thus the data got destroyed. NIC could not recover that data. We do possess some of the records in the physical form. However, under our program eDGCA, only the current renewals and issuance of new licenses are digitised now.’
The Central Information Commission (CIC) too, in its observation to the RTI, mentioned that this was an appalling state of affairs in respect of record keeping by the respondent public authority, especially when it concerns national security and safety of passengers.
The Commission advised the DGCA to be more diligent in maintain its sensitive data.
‘In the interest of the safety and security, not only of the passengers but also in the larger national interest, the DGCA is advised to maintain data in respect of all the pilots in different categories licensed by the public authority in a digitised format,’ the information commissioner stated.
India has about 11 critical airfields – Mangalore, Leh Kushok Bakula Rimpochee airport, Kullu Manali, Shimla, Agartala, Port Blair, Calicut, Lengpui at Aizawl (Mizoram), Patna, Jammu and Latur – where according to DGCA rules, only TRT certified pilots are allowed for take-offs and landings.
International airports across the world are treated as high-security zones in the wake of rising terror incidents. In the wake of several cases of irregularities including flight operations by the pilots, aviation experts say loss of data indicate appalling state of affairs, and it is a cause of grave concerns:
– In absence of digital data, anybody can use the identity of another pilot by merely replacing a photograph,
– Logging of duty time and flying hours can be fuzzed, if there is no digital backup,
– In common parlance, this is akin to driving licence portfolios missing from the record of a transport authority.
Aviation experts say loss of flight data at such a massive scale may have serious implications on passenger safety. These data are important as it involves the national security interest as well.