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Corruption allegations mar DGCA, probe on

Allegations of corruption have mired the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in the past month, with at least one senior, director-level officer now being accused for the third time of abusing his position of power in a manner that raises significant questions about the sanctity of the aviation regulator’s processes.

Most notable among these are allegations against Anil Gill, who has been accused of corruption three times in his eight-year stint in DGCA (HT)

At least three officials, current and former, whom HT spoke to, and the preliminary probe reports they cited, suggested the allegations, if true, could unearth what may be one of the most egregious cases of DGCA functionaries accepting bribes, ignoring violations, and bending rules.

Read here: DGCA wants CBI, ED to probe graft charges against official

Most notable among these are allegations against Anil Gill, who has been accused of corruption three times in his eight-year stint in DGCA. Gill was shunted out as the director of Flying Training (DFT) following the latest complaint – filed anonymously – to the aerosports division.

This complaint, sent to DGCA on October 25, alleged that Gill used his position to coerce pilots and flying schools, technically called flying training organisations (FTOs), into paying kickbacks to companies linked to him to look the other way if they were found to have violated rules and protocols.

In some cases, FTOs that could not pay the bribe Gill sought sold their aircraft at “nominal prices” to the companies linked to him — Bluethroat Aero Global and Sabres Corporate Solutions. These companies would then lease these mostly light aircraft for flight training to other FTOs at rates in the vicinity of 90 lakh a year.

As DFT, Gill was authorised to approve FTOs, where training is necessary for someone to become eligible for a commercial pilot licence.

“While there have been many allegations and action taken in various instances, never has an allegation of taking aircraft for bribes been made at a DGCA official. This is a one-of-a-kind allegation,” said an official, who was earlier attached to DGCA.

Gill refused to comment on the matter, citing legal obligations. A person close to him, on condition of anonymity, denied the allegations, saying, “the three aircraft being alleged to be taken as a bribe is completely false. The FTOs bought them from the private operators.”

The matter is under investigation and a preliminary report on the allegations was sent to aviation secretary Vumlunmang Vualnam on November 7. The report, according to people aware of its findings, placed on record that issuing of student of pilot licenses and regulator scrutiny of FTOs was carried out “by regional officers being handled by him”.

Specifics of the allegations paint a concerning picture. Such as the fact that Bluethroat Aero and Sabres have among their directors Gill’s mother, his brother’s wife, aunt, a cousin, and his brother-in-law.

A second allegation is related to an FTO called Redbird Flight Training Institute. The October 25 letter alleged Gill did not take any action against Redbird despite “15-20 crashes in the last 36 months”. DGCA on October 23 ordered Redbird to suspend operations after it found gaps in maintenance and operational practices.

Companies linked to Gill, the allegations said, leased two aircraft to Redbird.

“Redbird has been in profit because of Captain Gill as a few of its promoters are friends with the former DFT,” one of officials said, asking not to be named.

A Redbird representative denied the allegations. “Redbird was inaugurated in 2017 and has only grown thereafter because of our constant efforts. It has a fleet size of 40 and they are all new aircraft. I want to place on record that no incidents involving a Redbird aircraft have led to injuries to any passenger or crew.”

The representative also rejected allegations of links between the former DFT and its promoters. “Our training school has been inspected by other DGCA officials except him and hence the allegation of Gill’s involvement is absolutely baseless,” he said.

This is not the first time such allegations were made. In 2021, the DGCA’s chief vigilance officer (CVO) probed similar complaints, which accused Gill of accepting aircraft as bribe. HT contacted former top officials at DGCA who were at the helm when the complaints were received, and they said complaints were thoroughly investigated but nothing substantial was found.

“Any complaint with serious allegations needs to be thoroughly investigated by the CVC. Having said that, the number of anonymous complaints has been on the rise, many of which prove to be either false or intentional against officers,” said one of these former officials in the context of the previous probe against Gill, asking not to be named.

Read here: Air India gets DGCA notice for non-compliance

The episode is not the first time such controversies have surrounded the regulator and its officials. In 2012, the civil aviation ministry sought the advice of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) on action against DGCA officials accused of using their positions to get their kin employed in various airlines at the time (Jet Airways, GoAir, SpiceJet). The officials included two additional directors general and three directors in Air Safety, Airworthiness and Air Traffic Management wings of DGCA.

In 2011, three DGCA officials were arrested by the Delhi Police crime branch for a fake license scam.

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