With the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) cracking the whip on air charter firms flouting safety norms, the companies busy flying politicians for poll campaign would now report to the aviation regulator on operational issues once every week. DGCA, which has deployed crack teams of its officers and engineers to carry out surprise checks, has kept the non-scheduled air operators on tenterhooks and warned of stringent action if they violate the laid-down aviation safety norms when they fly politicians across the country. The regulator had earlier grounded an aircraft of Reliance Industries Ltd. (RIL) and issued notices to several private companies including the Jindal group, Larsen and Toubro Ltd. (L&T), SRC Aviation and Poonawallah Aviation. It also ordered dismissal of a pilot of RIL. Official sources said the non-scheduled operators have been asked to report to DGCA on issues like whether any objections have been raised by the Election Commission about their flight or the passengers they flew or those relating to their operations. The operational issues include those like flight duty time limitations of their crew members, whether they experienced any problems regarding their flight, the airport or the helipad and other operational issues. All these operators have been asked to nominate an official for managing election flying, who would be accountable for ensuring compliance of all instructions issued by DGCA, Election Commission, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security and Airports Authority of India, “before commencing election flying”, the sources said. The regulator has directed pilots and crew of aircraft or helicopters flying VIPs for poll campaigning to ensure that no unauthorised cash, narcotics or arms are carried in flights they would operate. A week has passed since the DGCA effected the Air Safety Circular on operation of small aircraft and helicopters and their adherence to safety guidelines detailing the do’s and don’ts for the charter operators. A special cell has also been set up within DGCA to monitor the flights of all these charter operators on a regular basis. The regulator has also put the onus of aircraft safety on the owner and operator, with the sources saying that the analysis of earlier accidents or incidents associated with small aircraft or helicopter and the past experience of election flying has revealed that “instructions were violated time and again and safety was jeopardised.” Election flying is a highly demanding exercise in terms of skill levels and professionalism, the sources said, adding that long flying hours, large number of take-offs and landings, weather changes, lack of proper rest, hurriedly prepared helipads, crowd control and congested airspace pose serious challenges to air travel during polls. Besides, frequent changes in itinerary, time management, highly stressed security arrangement, surcharged crowds, difficult and disturbed areas and lack of adequate communications also posed substantial risk, they said.
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