More than a dozen commercial pilots in India have been stripped of their licenses and a top airline safety official has been suspended after a government investigation uncovered widespread fraud and corruption in the booming aviation industry. Several of India’s private carriers, as well as its state-run airline, Air India, have fired active pilots as a result of the inquiry, which uncovered pilots falsifying flying records, cheating on flight exams and paying bribes to testing officials.
India’s government and its private sector are already convulsing with corruption scandals, which have tainted mobile phone companies as well as last year’s Commonwealth Games. The pilot investigation, though, carries particular shock value. “You really are messing with people’s lives if you are messing with a pilot’s license,” said Neil Mills, chief executive of SpiceJet, a low-cost carrier here that has fired three pilots for violations. “The penalties for corruption and not sticking to the rules should be much stricter and better enforced.” The review of India’s active commercial pilot licenses is about half-finished, said an official with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, India’s main airline regulatory body.
So far, government officials have revoked 6 commanders’ licenses, which certify experienced pilots to be in charge in the cockpit, and 13 other commercial pilots’ licenses, those often held by first officers. The agency is also investigating dozens of flight schools that have cropped up in recent years as demand has grown for new pilots. Pilot schools here are attracting new students, from engineers to housewives, and can charge more than $65,000 for a course that lasts less than a year.