When pilots fly illegally…

Some pilots are daring. The risks they take are unimaginable as WOLE SHADARE appraise the role of CAA’s to track down erring airlines and crew
Not many would have thought it was possible that pilots and crew fly aeroplanes without valid licences. A pilot, especially a commercial airline pilot, must at all times hold a valid licence to be able to qualify as a pilot.
A commercial pilot license (CPL) is a qualification that permits the holder to act as a pilot of an aircraft and be paid for his/her work. The basic requirements to obtain the license and the privileges it confers are agreed internationally by any country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) as recommended by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). However, the actual implementation varies quite widely from country to country.
According to ICAO, to be eligible for a commercial pilot license, the applicant must be able to read, speak, write, and understand English, already hold a private pilot license, have received training in the areas of a commercial pilot, and successfully complete the relevant written exams. To proceed in obtaining a commercial pilot license, the applicant must first obtain first-class medical certification.
A certificate/license will contain a number of sub-qualifications or ratings. These specify in more detail the actual privileges of the license, including the types of aircraft that can be flown (singleengine or multiengine), whether flight under instrument flight rules is allowed (instrument rating), and whether instructing and examining of trainee pilots can be done (instructor or examiner rating).
It may be possible to show these ratings at different levels.
Putting passengers at risk
For example, a United States certificate could read, “Commercial Pilot – Glider, Private Privileges – Airplane Single-Engine Land”. All over the world, aircraft pilots continue to violate rules that are inimical to safety. These violations range from lack of proper licensing to all manner of actions that can put the lives of their passengers in danger.
Most of these violations are not made public because most of the time, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) does not want to raise the adrenalin of intending passengers, so they prefer to deal with the issue in-house by way of imposing heavy fines on the erring pilot and airline to suspension of both if the violation endangers lives.
The Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) had recently imposed heavy fines on many airlines for violation of safety rules. But the agency went a notch higher when it recently imposed N33.5 million on the carrier for violation of safety regulations. It said the fine must be paid within seven days.
Medical report
The aviation sector regulator said the pilot failed to present his medical report to officials of NCAA who were on ramp inspection and that there was no indication that the pilot had a current medical certificate when he was to operate a flight as the Pilot in Command (PIC).
The authority said it ordered the airline to pay N32million and the pilot N1.5 million, totaling N33.5 million. NCAA said in a letter it wrote to the airline, “During a ramp inspection on your Airbus A319 Aircraft with registration mark 5N-FNE at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport (NAIA), it was discovered that the PIC was not in personal possession of a current medical certificate neither was it readily accessible.”
The airline, in a swift reaction, expressed surprised over the fine meted out to it, saying the sanction was done in bad faith. Infractions and violation is not peculiar to Nigerian aviation industry. All over the world, pilots have documented cases of not following laid down procedures.
Other jurisdictions
Indian airlines in 2014 had almost 350 commercial pilots who flew the skies with lapsed or invalid licences due to their failure to appear in exams that have to be given after every few months to remain eligible to operate in the cockpit.
Worried by the scandal, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) contemplated action against the heads of training department of the airlines, while asking the carriers to complete the required training of pilots in a time bound manner.
“All Indian carriers — Jet, Air India, SpiceJet, GoAir and IndiGo (in this order)—have some pilots who have not completed all checks required to keep their flying licences valid. While Jet and AI have 131 and over 100 such pilots, respectively, the three low cost have almost 100 cases.
We wrote to AirAsia India and Air Costa to tell us if they too have any such pilots,” said a senior official, adding that in all there would be over 350 pilots with invalid licences.” DGCA chief Prabhat Kumar contemplated action against the training heads of airlines, just like he ordered removal of Jet’s training chief after 131 pilots of that airline were found to be flying even after expiry of validity of their last pilot proficiency check (PPC).
This test was required to be given every six months and pilots were not supposed to fly without a valid PPC. The action was decided when the data from all airlines came in. Lack of valid pilot or expired pilot licence is essentially the same as driving a car without a license or insurance: it happens because some people just don’t see why they should have to get a license, and it’s possible because no one regularly checks every car and every driver.
Anecdotally, there are plenty of pilot stories about unlicensed pilots in rural, remote areas who fly out of private strips or small, uncontrolled airports. In the United States, if you do get caught by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) or by law enforcement, what happens?
The FAA can revoke your certificate but state or federal officials can go after you with criminal charges. At sentencing he faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the two criminal counts of making false statements to the FAA, and a maximum of three years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each of the three counts of flying without proper authorisation.
Spokesman for NCAA, Sam Adurogboye, while explaining how his agency has consistently ensure that air safety is not violated, made a reference to the violation of safety by one of the pilots of FirstNation Airways. His words, “Let me tackle the First Nation problem with an analogy.
If your driver’s licence expires and it goes for renewal, does that qualify me to drive my car? It is true that the pilot’s licence has expired and he applied for renewal, but for the period that he does not have a licence, he cannot fly.
“The regulation we are using, they have a say in it. Before our law becomes operational, we conduct stakeholders’ meeting for notice of rulemaking. Our regulation is not made by the NCAA in the secret and thrown at everybody; we sit down with those pilots including all the stakeholders.
We are all party to that document. If your license expires, you stay off the cockpit until your license is revalidated. When you do the wrong thing you are punished and when you do the right thing, you are commended. It has a reward system”, he added.
There is an interesting nuance to “becoming illegal”. The contract under which the crew flies is also brought under scrutiny. After all, safety is the number one thing that keeps everybody safe.
Although the public announcements will never identify whether the crew is going illegal due to a violation of regulations or violation of contract, sometimes you can pick it up. This is because the crew can wave the contract rule and elect to continue. However, the crew cannot elect to fly in violation of aviation regulations.
Wole Shadare