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Aviation Safety – Is the Future Bleak?

As is evident, there would be bigger aircraft with better flight management systems to carry more passengers flying longer hauls in commercial sector and more intelligent tactical military aircraft and helicopters. We may even see increased dependence on tactical and strategic missiles and use of unmanned aircraft, with the systems manager, the theatre commanders, sitting safely miles away from the theatre of war, as has been amply demonstrated by Americans in both Afghanistan and Iraq. Considering the economic upsurge in India, along with China, the probability of war is bleak due to its adverse effects on this boom, yet the war games with friendly forces shall continue, to remain vigilant and to prepare for the larger global role in the later years of rising India.

The likelihood of aviation accidents remains because of increase in commercial aviation activity, congestion in sky and paucity of infrastructure on ground. The increased demand for aircrew shall be matched by increase in need for ground based support groups like air traffic controllers, maintenance personnel and logistics staff for cargo and passenger management. Since the existing regulatory bodies in India are not yet alert and awake to the future human resource needs, the demand for trained aviation personnel is likely to be met from unregulated training establishments and fly-by-night operators. This may result in inadequately prepared or poorly trained aviation personnel, both in air and on ground. The development of the airport and navigational infrastructure is progressing as per the whims of political masters, and the crash of Air India Express at Mangalore did raise some uncomfortable questions in this regard. Both, the inadequately trained manpower and insufficient infrastructure, may adversely influence the safety records in Indian sky. Most importantly besides lacking a strong aviation safety regulatory body, there is dearth of aviation safety auditors and human factors specialists in the country. God forbid! if there are couple of more commercial aircraft accidents, besides the near-misses that one keeps hearing about, there ‘may be’ consolidation of aviation safety and realization about the contributions of human factors specialists; otherwise it shall remain a dormant field restricted to academic debates without putting human factors corrections and safety protocols in place for safer skies.

Military aviation safety records on the other hand shall vary as per the age of the fleet and the available resources. Hence it shall be the political alignments nationally and internationally that shall dictate the military might, its operational readiness and flight safety records than the willingness of the military leadership to put in place corrective measures for keeping military aviation safe. There is no likelihood of radical changes in the conventional flight safety practice in the Air Force in the coming years. It is more due to conservative military upbringing of the leaders than any other reason, though we may see growth in human factors related activity both centrally and in the field, due to personal convictions of the individual operators and squadron doctors who, hopefully, have their feet firmly on the ground.

The future of the aviation safety in the country shall remain bleak unless there is a realization on part of both the regulator, DGCA, and the operators, airlines in particular, that investment in aviation safety does not yield instantaneous returns, least of all in monetary terms, yet they must consider the loss of revenue and their image whenever their is a loss of a hull in an accident. The human cost though is irreplaceable!

2 comments

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  1. a g nair

    what are the punitive measures contemplated for defaulters? when an accident becomes very much costlier after the event to all concerned as compared to the expenses incurred in preventing an accident ; accidents would automatically stop.

  2. Atul Gupta

    Accidents are caused accidentally. I m sure no one does so intentionally. Talking about punitive action has actually been non-productive as far as prevention of accidents are concerned. Time has come when we must introduce non-punitive climate into the way we investigate accidents. Showing statistics on costs incurred in an accident and that of preventing one is neither practical nor impressive. Ask those who saw themselves stuck in the cross fire as they believed that they themselves were aghast. We must create an environment of total quality management right at the grass roots and ensure adequate training. Only then can we see this trend reversing.

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