In the past decade, India’s civil aviation watchdog DGCA has only had IAS officers heading it, none of whom have had real domain expertise.
New Delhi: In June, when the US Federal Aviation Administration — deemed the apex airline regulator worldwide — called civil aviation authorities from across the world to review software modifications to the grounded Boeing 737 Max, it didn’t extend the invite to India’s watchdog — the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
This despite the fact that India is one of the 10 countries that flew the controversial new generation jet and is also one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets.
It was no anomaly — just the latest in a series of international aviation safety seminars that no DGCA official has been invited to.
DGCA representatives have, off late, not been invited to seminars of the US-based International Society of Air Safety Investigations (ISASI). The Indian aviation body has also been left out of safety seminars held in Europe.
The repeated snubs, experts say, is due to a structural issue at the apex of the aviation regulatory sector in the country.
Unlike in even other developing nations such as Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines, where the regulatory bodies are headed by technocrats with an aviation background, all the top posts in the DGCA, the Airport Authority of India (AAI) or for that matter even public carrier Air India are held by Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers.
Such is the situation, that in the past decade, the DGCA has always been headed by an IAS officer, not always with the relevant domain experience. The last technocrat to head the body was the late Kanu Gohain (2007-08), who had 35 years of experience in the industry.
The upsurge of IAS officers donning the role, however, only began after his tenure. Since 1980, for instance, of the 15 DGCA heads, eight have been from the IAS cadre (see box). But six of them have headed the DGCA in the last decade alone.
Captain Mohan Ranganathan, an aviation safety consultant and former flight instructor, said bureaucrats made their way into the DGCA after Gohain’s tenure.
“Bureaucrats in the ministry wormed their way into DGCA via the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) route,” Ranganathan said. A joint secretary would be sent to ICAO as India’s representative and qualification requirements for DGCA were tweaked by the ministry to make sure that the IAS cadre swarmed into all the top posts in aviation. None of the bureaucrats knew the subject.”
The former flight instructor said it is a far cry from the early days when the DGCA was headed by professionals.
“Except for a short stint of M.R. Sivaraman in the ’90s, the DGCA in the past had always been someone with an aviation background,” he said. “There was a time when Air Marshall C.S.K. Raje, a former Indian Air Force chief, was the DGCA. He was very good and he did understand the difference between a military set up and a civil aviation one.”