by Saurabh Sinha

NEW DELHI: The Border Security Force's (BSF) air wing — which routinely flies top VVIPs, especially of the home ministry — has been severely castigated by a government panel set up to probe the crash of a BSF Beechcraft Super King Air B 200 soon after takeoff from Delhi airport in December 2015, killing all 10 people on board. In fact the probe panel has concluded in its report that "there was non-existence of safety culture, non-existence of SMS (safety management systems) and nil supervision of the operations at ground level."

"An organisation may look compliant vis-a-vis the mandatory requirements but may still be seriously deficient in discharging its duties safely and efficiently…. The organisation seems to suffer from complacency which can be described as a loss of awareness of potential dangers…. Though the organisational chart specifically indicates the posts of the chief of SMS and chief of flight safety with a full-fledged department of flight safety; but, none was existing. At times, officers who were nominated as chief of flight safety or SMS had conveyed their unwillingness to the accountable manager… on the grounds of work load and them being not trained on flight safety," the report of the probe panel headed by R S Passi with Raje Bhatnagar, Captain Anant Sethi and K Ramachandran as members, says.

BSF's air wing was formed in 1969 with a single Queen Air C-80 aircraft. Five years later, its services were extended to cover all Central Armed Police Forces. According to the BSF website, the air wing has Embraer-135 J, Avro (HS-748) and Super King B-200 aircraft in fixed wing and ALH (Dhruv), Cheetah and Mi-17 1V in Rotary Wing. "With ever increasing role of air support, air wing is adding new aircraft in its fleet with MTA and Mi-17 V5 acquisition already in process." The air wing has its bases at New Delhi, Raipur, Ranchi, Agartala and Srinagar. Fixed wing (aircraft) operations happen on in Delhi.

Given the amount of VVIP flying done by the air wing, the probe panel has asked Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to have stricter crew experience norms for such flights. "When operating VIP flights with fixed wing aircraft, the pilot-in-command (PIC) shall possess CPL (commercial pilot licence) or ATPL (airline transport pilot licence that commanders have) with at least 3,000 hours out of which 1,000 hours on multi/twin engine aircraft including 2,000 hours as PIC out of which 500 hours as PIC on multi/twin engine aircraft, 100 hours as PIC on type of aircraft to be flown and 50 hours of night flying experience. In addition, the pilot should have a minimum of 30 hours as PIC experience in the last 6 months including five hours on type in the last thirty days of the intended flight," it says.

The panel has asked DGCA to "carry out thorough regulatory audit of the organisation and ensure that the organisation meets at least all the requirements" and ensure "continued compliance with the regulations through continuous oversight checking."

If all this was done in the past, perhaps the BSF plane crash of December 22, 2015, in which all 10 people on board died may have been prevented.