From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council, DGCA and other related departments and mandates
Mains level : Aviation sector, safety concerns and reforms
- In 2010, a tragic accident at Mangalore airport claimed the lives of 158 people. Despite prior warnings and PILs filed by the Environment Support Group, the concerned authorities neglected to address safety concerns regarding the airport’s second runway. It highlights the lack of accountability and transparency in the system, the failure to learn from past accidents, and the urgent need for reforms in India’s aviation sector.
- In 1997, the Environment Support Group raised concerns about the inadequacy of Mangalore airport’s second runway during emergencies. However, the PIL filed by the NGO was dismissed by the Karnataka High Court.
- In 2002, another PIL emphasized the potential dangers of the runway, but it faced the same fate. Dissatisfied with the verdict, the group approached the Supreme Court, which ruled that the government must adhere to applicable laws and environmental norms during airport construction
- Following the Mangalore crash, the Ministry of Civil Aviation established the Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council (CASAC) to identify deficiencies and propose corrective measures.
- CASAC pointed out the court of inquiry’s failure to identify critical errors and suggested improvements, particularly at airports like Mangalore and Calicut. However, their warnings were disregarded by the Ministry and the DGCA.
- The subsequent accident at Calicut on August 7, 2020, claiming 21 lives, further exposed the disregard for safety concerns.
- The recommendations made by the committee formed after the accident remain unimplemented due to prioritizing commercial interests over safety.
- Neglecting Compliance with Laws and Norms: Government agencies responsible for airport construction failed to comply with applicable laws and environmental norms, as mandated by the Supreme Court. This negligence resulted in violations that ultimately led to the tragic crash.
- Dismissing Expert Opinions: The Supreme Court’s dismissal of the PIL that highlighted the violations and safety concerns surrounding Mangalore airport indicates a reluctance to hold government agencies accountable. The judiciary’s unwillingness to intervene despite expert opinions undermined the pursuit of justice and prevention of future accidents.
- Lack of Accountability: The blame for accidents was often placed solely on pilots, while the systemic deficiencies and regulatory failures were overlooked. The absence of accountability within the aviation sector perpetuated a culture of negligence and hindered efforts to address underlying safety issues.
- Failure in Accident Investigations: The investigations conducted by the DGCA and AAIB failed to identify the root causes of accidents and provide effective preventive measures. Instead of rectifying systemic shortcomings, investigations often resorted to blaming pilot error, leaving the real issues unresolved.
- Neglecting Recommendations: The warnings and recommendations put forth by the Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council (CASAC) were disregarded by the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the DGCA. The failure to implement necessary safety measures, such as Runway End Safety Areas (RESA), despite expert advice, highlights a disregard for passenger safety.
- Prioritizing Commercial Interests: Commercial interests were given precedence over safety considerations, as implementing certain safety measures would have affected the runway length and payload. This compromise on safety standards underscores the need to prioritize the well-being of passengers over commercial gains.
Role and responsibilities of Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council (CASAC)
- Identify Deficiencies: CASAC is tasked with identifying deficiencies in safety measures, regulations, infrastructure, and operational practices across airports, airlines, and regulatory bodies. It conducts thorough assessments and inspections to pinpoint areas where safety standards may be compromised.
- Provide Recommendations: Based on its assessments, CASAC formulates recommendations and proposes corrective measures to address the identified deficiencies. These recommendations cover a wide range of aspects, including operational procedures, infrastructure improvements, training programs, safety audits, and regulatory enhancements.
- Review Reports and Investigations: CASAC reviews accident investigation reports and court of inquiry findings related to aviation accidents and incidents. It examines these reports to determine if proper root cause analysis has been conducted and if adequate preventive measures have been recommended. CASAC ensures that critical errors or safety gaps are identified and addressed in the reports.
- Advise on Safety Enhancements: CASAC advises the Ministry of Civil Aviation on safety enhancements, both immediate and long-term. It provides guidance on the implementation of best practices, industry standards, and international safety protocols. CASAC’s recommendations aim to improve safety outcomes and minimize risks within the aviation sector.
- Monitor Compliance: CASAC monitors the compliance of airports, airlines, and regulatory bodies with recommended safety measures and regulations. It reviews progress reports submitted by stakeholders to assess their adherence to the proposed corrective actions. This monitoring function ensures that safety improvements are implemented effectively.
- Collaborate with Stakeholders: CASAC collaborates with various stakeholders in the aviation industry, including airlines, airports, regulatory bodies, industry experts, and international organizations. It engages in discussions, knowledge-sharing, and cooperative initiatives to promote a collective approach to aviation safety.
- Continuous Evaluation: CASAC conducts periodic evaluations and reviews of the aviation sector’s safety performance. It assesses the effectiveness of implemented safety measures, identifies emerging safety concerns, and recommends adjustments or additional measures as required.
Way ahead: The Need for Urgent Action in the aviation sector
- Regulatory Reforms: Initiate comprehensive regulatory reforms to strengthen oversight and enforcement mechanisms. This includes enhancing the authority, capabilities, and resources of regulatory bodies like the DGCA to effectively monitor compliance with safety regulations.
- Transparent and Independent Investigations: Establish an independent and transparent accident investigation process that identifies root causes without bias or external influence. This will enable the implementation of effective preventive measures and foster a culture of learning from past incidents.
- Safety Management Systems: Promote the adoption of Safety Management Systems (SMS) by airlines and airports. An SMS provides a systematic approach to identifying and managing safety risks, ensuring proactive safety measures are in place, and promoting continuous improvement.
- Robust Training and Human Factors Programs: Enhance training programs for aviation personnel, including pilots, air traffic controllers, and maintenance staff, focusing on areas such as emergency procedures, risk management, and human factors. Emphasize the importance of fatigue management and mental well-being to mitigate human error.
- Infrastructure Upgrades: Invest in upgrading and modernizing airport infrastructure, including runways, taxiways, and air traffic control systems. Ensure compliance with international safety standards and implement necessary enhancements to address deficiencies.
- Enhanced Collaboration: Foster collaboration and information sharing among industry stakeholders, including airlines, airports, regulators, and international aviation organizations. Establish platforms for regular communication and exchange of best practices to drive collective efforts towards improved safety.
- Accountability and Transparency: Strengthen accountability mechanisms to ensure that responsible individuals and entities are held liable for safety lapses. Foster a culture of transparency, where safety-related information is shared openly, and reporting systems protect whistleblowers.
- Public Awareness and Passenger Education: Increase public awareness about aviation safety and passenger rights through education campaigns. Empower passengers to make informed decisions regarding safety when choosing airlines and demand transparency from regulatory bodies.
- The Mangalore airport crash and subsequent incidents have shed light on the critical need for comprehensive reforms in the aviation sector to ensure the safety of passengers and personnel. The establishment of the CASAC was a step in the right direction. However, to achieve a safer aviation environment it requires collective efforts, commitment, and ongoing vigilance to prevent accidents, learn from past incidents, and ensure the well-being of passengers and personnel in the skies.
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