Fake pilots scam points to need for detailed background checks

Written by Shaheen Mansuri | Smita Joshi Saha | Mumbai | Updated: Mar 21 2011, 08:44am hrs
As the fake pilots scam gets bigger by the day, consulting firms, pilots fraternity and pilot training schools feel that thorough background srcutiny can avert recruitment of fake candidates in the industry. The scam came to light when over five pilots from various airlines were found cheating the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) with either fake mark-sheet or fraudulent flying licenses.

Says YN Sharma, CEO of Bhopal-based Chimes Aviation Academy, Sheer ignorance from recruiters and regulatory authority leads to such circumstances. Against the backdrop of five pilots being exposed with fake certificates, it is very crucial for the DGCA to dwell deeper and understand the education and employment history of the candidate. Stressing the three level checking on the candidates eligibility, Sharma says, First, whenever a candidate logs his documents with the DGCA, the authority should go to the flying school to check his/her flying hours and the actual fuel consumption by the student, just to match flying hours with actual fuel usage while being trained. The second aspect, says he, is checking the credibility of flying schools as there may be many flying schools which issue passing certificates to ineligible students. And finally, if a student has done his flying hours abroad, the DGCA has to check with the aviation authorities in the respective country to get an accurate information about the school and the student.

To get a commercial pilots licence, one has to spend over Rs 25 lakh. There are over 5,000 registered pilots in India working with various airlines. Civil aviation secretary, Nasim Zaidi has been reported saying, "In the wake of the fake pilot scare, licenses of 3,000 to 4,000 pilots are being scrutinised by the DGCA.

Meanwhile, Rishabh Kapur, general secretary, Indian Commercial Pilots Association, (ICPA), an association of over 800 pilots of erstwhile Indian Airlines which merged with Air India in 2007 revealed, There is one more instance at AI wherein someone whose Dangerous Goods Regulations training certificate has expired six months ago, is still operating flights without the mandatory requirement. However, the airline hasnt yet taken up the issue. According to E Balaji, director and president, Ma Foi Management Consultants Ltd, A stringent checking is not possible unless the employer has access to DGCA database rather than just relying on the documents produced by the employee. The awareness has increased but it is confined to roles at senior positions. As background check is an expensive process it is done only at very senior level in India especially in the banking, financial services and investment banking sectors where the frauds are high and damages are sensitive.

Meanwhile, fake document cases have plagued the airline sector too at present. JK Verma and Arjun Giare, pilots with national carrier Air India, Parminder Kaur Gulati from Indigo Airlines and many more names have come up for investigation before the DGCA. Experts say, unfortunately, unlike in the West, background checks are not an imperative part of the recruitment process in India. Incidentally, a background check performed by specialised agencies includes candidates performance records, a verification of his address, qualifications, family background, criminal record and economic offences . However, in India, only a few of these steps, like verification of addresses and qualifications, and reference checks, are undertaken by HR departments.

Some companies, especially those in the IT sector, hire reputed verification agencies, which undertake rigorous background checks on a candidate. Personnel in such verification agencies are well-trained in fraud detection. Says Shiv Agarwal, CEO, ABC Consulting, said, This is a serious issue amongst corporates, as fake certificate cases prevail across sectors. IT and banking industries are the most impacted with forged certificate cases. Independent reference and background check are crucial to companies while recruiting.