Faked Airline-Pilot Records Prompt India to Review Licenses

India is reviewing the licenses of all of the 4,000-plus airline pilots working in the country, as police investigate at least 18 people suspected of using forged documents to win promotions or certification.

Every captain is being “systematically” verified, followed by co-pilots and other license-holders, Director General of Civil Aviation E.K. Bharat Bhushan said today by phone from New Delhi. The industry regulator is also planning to announce improvements in its policies and procedures in about 10 days’ time, he said without elaborating.

New Delhi Police have also started investigating government officials to determine whether they helped pilots use faked records, Deputy Commissioner Ashok Chand said in an interview yesterday. The scandal, following similar cases in China, highlights the competition for qualified pilots in fast-growing emerging markets.

“All of them will be seen as culprits unless proved otherwise,” said Pattabhi Raman, director of Rajiv Gandhi Aviation Academy, which is in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh. “Flying is not a joke. People’s lives are involved.”

Air India, IndiGo

In New Delhi, one pilot each from Air India Ltd. and IndiGo have been arrested for using forged paperwork to win promotions, Chand said. Another three, including one more from closely held IndiGo, are being investigated, he said. All five were properly qualified co-pilots, he said. The pilots face up to seven years in jail on charges including forgery, Chand said.

Nationwide, there were 4,084 pilots, including expatriates, in India as of Jan. 1, 2010, according to government data.

Jet Airways (India) Ltd., the nation’s biggest carrier, fell 1 percent to 435.15 rupees in Mumbai trading, reversing earlier gains. SpiceJet Ltd., a discount carrier, fell 0.4 percent. The benchmark Sensex Index gained 0.8 percent.

State-owned Air India has grounded two pilots and is investigating “around a dozen,” it said in an e-mailed reply to Bloomberg News questions. IndiGo, the nation’s biggest discount carrier, has stopped two from flying, it said in an e-mailed statement.

“We are treating this matter with utmost seriousness,” it said. “There can be absolutely no compromise on safety.”

SpiceJet said March 18 it had fired two pilots after being told by the regulator that the crewmembers had inflated flying hours to get licenses. The carrier is helping with an investigation, it said.

“If they are reviewing every license and every document, that’s fair,” said Rishabh Kapur, general secretary of the Indian Commercial Pilots’ Association. “Also, they should find out what the flaw is and who is responsible for finally clearing these documents.”

Rajasthan Probe

In Rajasthan state, five pilots have been arrested and eight more are being sought on suspicion of using faked records to win licenses without performing the mandatory amount of training, Ajit Singh, additional director general, Rajasthan Police, said by phone yesterday. Two flying-school officials have also been detained, he said.

The aviation regulator has suspended the licenses of all of the pilots involved in the New Delhi and Rajasthan cases, which aren’t directly linked, Bhushan said.

An investigation in China in 2008 found 192 pilots had insufficient flying experience, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China. All of them were given compulsory training before they were permitted to fly again, the regulator said in 2010.

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