Mumbai: Captain SPS Suri was suspended by DGCA pending inquiry for allegedly trying to bury an episode of turbulence on a flight. But he travelled as operational crewmember for another flight on August 1, in violation of aviation and immigration guidelines. An inquiry against him for alleged contravention of rules has apparently failed to stop this Air India pilot from flouting a few more.
MiD DAY had reported on July 24 (Maharaja of cover-ups) that there was massive turbulence aboard AI 348 Delhi-Shanghai on July 5, leading to damage to the plane and injuries to passengers, and that the pilot, Captain SPS Suri, allegedly did not brief the company or aviation regulator about the episode and instead ordered crewmembers to stay mum. On July 30, MiD DAY had also published the traumatic experiences of several commuters (‘I was tossed up against the plane’s roof’). Captain Suri had been de-rostered by Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) pending inquiry, which is still in progress.
However, documents available with MiD DAY reveal that the pilot in question travelled as operational crewmember for flight AI 995 Delhi-Dubai on August 1, which is a violation of aviation and immigration guidelines, said top civil aviation ministry functionaries. The General Declaration (GD) for the Delhi-Dubai flight comprises nine names — six cabin crewmembers and three pilots, including Captain Suri, slotted as SOD (staff on duty).
Member of Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Committee (CASAC) and aviation expert Mohan Ranganathan, who had written to aviation ministry and DGCA regarding the aforementioned issue, told MiD DAY that such violations are very serious in nature and while disciplinary action against the pilot and sanctioning authority which permitted him to travel as crew is required, the country to which this pilot travelled can impound the aircraft on charges of violation of immigration laws.
“Captain Suri is under suspension and so is naturally not on duty. This is an illegal operation. He cannot travel as staff on duty when he has been de-rostered. If he has signed the authorisation himself, then that is a very clear breach of laws. If another official endorsed the SOD travel authorisation, he is also guilty of violation,” Ranganathan said.
“GD is only for operating crew or staffers sent as additional crewmembers to run another flight. GD is used in lieu of a visa to enter a foreign country and the privilege is strictly for on-duty crewmembers. Any other employee has to fly on a visa, even when he is travelling for training. If Air India has done this (allowed Captain Suri to fly as SOD), it is a misuse of immigration laws and the destination country can take strong action, including seizing the aircraft,” he added.
When contacted, civil aviation minister Ajit Singh said, “Last time when the matter was brought to my notice by your newspaper I asked the authorities to conduct a detailed inquiry, which is in progress. I believe that any suspended employee should not be allowed to board a flight as part of operating crew. If this has happened, I will investigate it myself.”
However, DGCA chief Arun Mishra was more enigmatic in his response. “We have suspended Captain Suri and he is not supposed to fly an aircraft. I have questioned the airline and it has confirmed that he was on the roster, but was not flying the plane,” Mishra told MiD DAY. Asked how he was on the roster in spite of being debarred by DGCA, Mishra said, “Why the airline decided to do this only its officials can explain. I will ask my officers to find out how this pilot got into the roster.”
CMD, Air India, Rohit Nandan confirmed that the matter has come to his attention and an inquiry has been ordered. “The director (personnel) has been asked to look into the issue and to examine if there is any violation of law.”
Deputy director (immigration) NS Bundela at Bureau of Immigration said, “How will we be able to find out that a crewmember is suspended if the airline has declared him as part of operating crew? The mistake is on part of the airline. Since the matter is in our notice, we will investigate it.”
Despite repeated attempts, Captain Suri could not be contacted.