Accurate evaluation of risks present and their effective management appears to be paying dividends. The lowest ever accident rate of 0.22 achieved by the IAF last year is comparable to the most advanced air forces of the world.
Aerospace safety mission-statement of the Indian Air Force (IAF) has been to “ensure operational capability by conserving human and material resources through prevention of aircraft accidents”. The IAF believes that loss of aircraft through accidents, undermines operational capability and hence the focus is on reducing the accident rate. The ‘aircraft accident rate’ is calculated as number of accidents resulting in loss of an aircraft per 10,000 hours of flying. It has been declining steadily over the years. The lowest accident rate of 0.35 was last achieved in the financial year 2006-07. Human error, either by the operator or support service provider, and technical defects have been the major reason behind accidents in the IAF.
In-depth analysis of the problem and focused corrective measures were initiated in the last one year in an effort to bring down the accident rate significantly. These included strengthening of initial basic training, review of flying training syllabi, especially of inexperienced air crew, enhanced aircraft and system serviceability through better resource management as also renewed focus on technical supervision and maintenance practices. The accident rate achieved in the financial year 2012-13 was 0.22, the lowest ever recorded.
The aircraft inventory as well as support equipment held by the IAF is spread over a wide technology spectrum. The IAF continues to operate old low technology aircraft such as the MiG-21, MiG-27, HJT-16 Kiran, etc. Product support by the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) is often a major constraint. The older machines are prone to technical defects and system failures. The problem is countered by a slew of measures such as strengthening of training, close monitoring of maintenance activities, stringent quality control during repair and overhaul at base repair depots and the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).
Technical defects have also been on the rise on the newer fleets such as the Jaguar and Mirage 2000. Amalgamation of modern technology with such platforms is feasible and a number of upgradation programmes on these fleets are under way to enhance the operational capability as well as improve safety and maintainability. With the phasing out of ageing fleets and new inductions yet to fructify, the IAF is facing reducing numbers. Under such circumstances, higher fleet serviceability will not only offset the reduced strength of aircraft, but also more importantly, ensure adequate flying for the aircrew. This is possible only through timely provisioning of spares, especially those procured from foreign sources. Increased flying training for the aircrew will translate into reduced human error accidents and better operational preparedness of the IAF.
Preserving and strengthening training resources is another focus area for the IAF. Untimely retirement of the HPT-32, delay in the availability of the intermediate jet trainer, repeated extensions of life for the ageing Kiran fleet and the need to increase intake of pilots to keep pace with new inductions, especially multi-pilot fighters such as Su-30MKI, are inclined to increase pressure on training resources. Fast track induction of Pilatus PC-7 and accretion of Hawk AJT along with embedded simulators are steps in the right direction. Stringent compliance to training standards at various stages of flying training as well as gradual progression of the trainees to higher performance aircraft are regarded essential to reduce accidents due to human error. Development of training infrastructure to cater to future induction of aircraft and systems as part of long-term induction perspective plan is being pursued expeditiously.
With the induction of state-of-the-art equipment and phasing-out of ageing fleets, a downward trend in incidents of technical defects can be expected. Modern technology demands stringent quality control at production as well as overhaul stages to reduce technical defects. Rigorous quality assurance standards and specifications as laid down by the OEM have to be ensured during licensed production. To reduce accidents on account of technical defects, the IAF has initiated joint quality audits along with HAL on the different fleets. Shortcomings in production support infrastructure, availability of skilled manpower, quality control, delay in setting up of ROH facilities, lack of robust research and development (R&D), etc do get highlighted.
The IAF is striving hard to achieve a high degree of safety while meeting the organisational objectives. The issues related to flight safety are being monitored at the level of the Chief of the Air Staff himself. Accurate evaluation of risks present and their effective management appears to be paying dividends. The lowest ever accident rate of 0.22 achieved by the IAF last year is comparable to the most advanced air forces of the world.
—Inputs from Air Headquarters