Dhaka, Bangladesh
Scare in the air

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Scare in the air

Two commercial aircraft were barely seconds away from each other and narrowly averted a disastrous collision in the air over Mumbai last week. The near miss foregrounds the parlous state of air safety in India; many similar misses have been reported in recent times. India is in the midst of a robust phase of growth in air passenger traffic. Consequently, aviation sector’s infrastructure and its air safety framework are stretched. India is forecast to become the world’s third largest aviation market by 2025 on the heels of the current pace of growth. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said recently that people wearing hawai chappal (flip flops) should be able to fly hawai jahaz (aircraft). The flip side of that, however, is that India’s air infrastructure should be able to handle the increased load – else planes will start falling out of the sky, as one did near Moscow airport on Sunday killing everyone on board. In December, aviation minister Jayant Sinha told Parliament that 13 airports in India have handled more than their capacity. India’s busiest airports, Delhi and Mumbai, are operating at maximum runway capacity. This traffic load has to be supported by a sharp enhancement in quantity as well as quality of key personnel, such as air traffic controllers. Government has stepped up recruitment but the key question is whether staffing urgency has had an adverse impact on quality. It is time for NDA to act upon an earlier proposal to establish an independent regulator. Current aviation regulator DGCA is directly under the ministry which sets policy. Along with this step an independent audit of the air safety framework, including personnel, needs to be carried out. This audit can be thorough only if there is a systemic reconfiguration to keep the aviation regulator at a distance from the policy maker. The architecture of regulation needs to be brought into the 21st century. — The Times of India

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