NEW DELHI: In the old days, stowaways would travel unnoticed by hiding in obscure corners of ships. But the commander of a leading Indian airline managed to travel in the cockpit twice — even flying the aircraft once — without leaving any trace he was ever on board.
While the mystery of the ‘ghost pilot’ has left aviation circles baffled, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation has grounded the man in question — one of the senior-most commanders of Jet Airways. In the first instance, he allegedly operated a Delhi-Bengaluru-Delhi flight without a valid flying licence and to cover it up, erased the flight records that showed he was flying that plane. The same pilot is alleged to have later flown from Delhi to Bengaluru to appear for an exam to keep his flying licence valid, again without leaving any record anywhere.
“We are treating it as a serious security lapse as it is a test case to examine how one can manipulate all records to fly without leaving any trace. Our initial probe has shown he was in the cockpit in both instances. The case will be referred to the Bureau for Civil Aviation Security and exemplary action will be taken,” a senior aviation official said.
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The aviation regulator is examining how the pilot managed to fly virtually as a stowaway — not hidden in the landing gear ‘wheel well’ in the undercarriage but in the cockpit of the Delhi-Bengaluru flight during the second instance.
Pending investigation, the commander, who is also an examiner and trains and certifies other pilots, has been grounded. A Jet Airways spokesperson said: “As this matter is currently under investigation we cannot comment on the details. We are extending full cooperation to DGCA for the investigation. At Jet Airways, the safety of our guests and staff is of paramount importance.”
The case began unfolding some months ago when the captain allegedly operated a flight with a lapsed pilot proficiency check (PPC) test. The PPC certifies that a pilot’s knowledge is up to date, and only those with a valid PPC are allowed to fly passengers. Pilots flying with lapsed PPC is a common occurrence as the test is to be given periodically, and action is taken accordingly. But a cover-up is unprecedented.
“When the pilot realised he has flown with a lapsed PPC, he got the flight records erased completely to remove his name from all places that he had operated that flight. We are trying to find out who erased the records,” said a senior official investigating the case. Later, the pilot flew from Delhi to Bengaluru to give his PPC test. “His name does not appear in the passenger manifest of that flight (list of people on board); the additional crew member list (travelling in cockpit but on the two seats behind the controls but does not operate a flight) or even on the crew list. With absolutely no paper, how did this pilot clear airport security, enter the aircraft and fly to Bengaluru? This is unheard of,” the official said.