Revitalise General Aviation

Issue: 3 / 2014By B.K. PandeyPhoto(s): By SP Guide Pubns

While operators in general aviation are battling the government, the worst sufferers are those that are aspiring to own Microlights or Powered Hang Gliders meant for sport aviation

The general aviation segment of the Indian aviation industry has all along been in the doldrums, suffering primarily from total apathy on the part of the agencies of the government responsible. Over the years, this negative approach of the government has in effect only served to impede growth of this sector. As per Rohit Kapur, President of the Business Aviation Operators’ Association (BAOA), “The general aviation fleet in India is significant. But the problem is that there is no dedicated policy or regulatory framework or infrastructure to support it. The sector can become a key driver of economic growth. But there has to be recognition of the sector at the government level.”

The underlying cause for the deplorable state of affairs in the regime of business aviation, the most important segment of general aviation, has been the serious distortions in perception at the level of the government where it is viewed as mere luxury and not as a management tool for the large business houses and a driver for national economic growth. In the recent past, the situation appears to have taken a turn for the worse as ostensibly on account of security concerns, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has discontinued issuing temporary landing permits to aircrew of foreign-registered business jets. The government has also made it mandatory for the aircrew of non-revenue flights of foreign-registered aircraft to obtain employment visa in case they wish to fly to different destinations within the country after arrival in India. These stipulations have created new hurdles for business aircraft based abroad and have severely affected their movement into India.

While the high-end operators in general aviation are battling the government, the worst sufferers are those that are aspiring to own small and light aircraft such as the Microlights or Powered Hang Gliders that are essentially meant for hobby flying, promotion of tourism or sport aviation. Those desirous of acquiring such aircraft for their own use are required to first obtain a security clearance from the MHA. This stipulation has turned out to be a major impediment for those intending to procure light general aviation aircraft as applications from a large number of potential owners, believed to be in hundreds, are pending for security clearance, in some cases even for several years. The inordinate delay in the processing of such applications is apparently on account of lack of coordination and clarity between the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and the MHA compounded by bureaucratic indifference.

The hapless applicants are at their wits end as the system is totally opaque with lack of accountability, absence of provision for timebound processing or facility for applicants to track the status of their applications. Besides, as there is total absence of communication to the applicants from both the DGCA and the MHA, individuals have no option but to make repeated visits to these entities at enormous expense of time and money to ascertain the status of their application. Even action by applicants under the Right to Information Act have failed to solve their problems. Anyone who has had the opportunity to interact with these departments of the Central Government would know how humiliating and frustrating the experience can be. It is indeed somewhat strange that even senior airline pilots who have spent a lifetime flying for Indian carriers, have to wait for years to obtain security clearance. One such case is of a senior pilot and examiner flying for Jet Airways whose application for security clearance submitted in November 2008 was finally cleared five years later in 2013! It would not be difficult to imagine how inspiring such an attitude of the government will be to the growth of sport aviation in the country.

In June 2013, the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), India submitted a representation to the DGCA on the subject of “Simplification of Security Clearance Procedure for Ownership and Operation of Microlights and Powered Hang Gliders”. While not intending to compromise aviation security in any way, the petition submitted by AOPA aims to remove the impediments that currently plague the system, decentralise processing of applications region wise, streamline the procedure to make it less cumbersome for the applicant and enhance the levels of transparency as well as accountability on the part of the government agencies involved. On response received from the DGCA that the responsibility of providing security clearance for potential owners of Microlights and Powered Hang Gliders lay with the MHA and not the DGCA, the AOPA has for the first time taken up a case with the former and are determined to pursue it to finality.

Finally, there is some hope for sport aviation enthusiasts in the country!