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India risks downgrade by US FAA under IASA program

An audit team of the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is meeting the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in Delhi today. The team will check if India is following the international safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) under the FAA’s International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) Program.

During its 2006 audits, ICAO had found several violations of 300 guidelines. Shortage of skilled manpower was the biggest problem, and neither the DGCA, nor its master, the Ministry of Civil Aviation have taken any substantive steps to correct the short-comings. The DGCA reportedly faces a shortfall of 700 adequately qualified staff, one of the pre-requisites to be assessed by the FAA team, and one the FAA has already wanted the DGCA about more than six months ago.

As per reports, in the 2006 ICAO audit, for technical personnel qualification and training, India scored only two out of ten, against a global average of four; for safety oversight functions, India scored four out of ten against the global average of six.

This is going to be a tough time for Naseem Zaidi, India’s Director General of Civil Aviation. Failing this assessment will result in a downgrade of India from its Category 1 to a Category 2 status, which will place severe restrictions on Indian carriers operating to the United States; currently Air India and Jet Airways.

Lest India thinks that its special new found friendship with the United States will help, one should look at one of the United States’ closest allies, Israel, who was recently downgraded to Category 2.

As per the FAA guidelines

While in Category 2 status, carriers from these countries will be permitted to continue operations at current levels under heightened FAA surveillance. Expansion or changes in services to the United States by such carriers are not permitted while in category 2, although new services will be permitted if operated using aircraft wet-leased from a duly authorized and properly supervised U.S. carrier or a foreign air carrier from a category 1 country that is authorized to serve the United States using its own aircraft.

Facing the imminent threat of the downgrade the DGCA is desperately trying to recruit more staff, and preparing a roadmap to separate the tasks of safety inspections and accident investigations from its regulatory functions. It has even finally come to its senses and mooted a proposal for the formation of an independent agency vested with the responsibility of accident investigations.

The question now remains whether (a) Will the mandarins at the Ministry of Civil Aviation, finally come to their senses and give up their powers? and (b) Is it too little, too late. Will the FAA give India more time and accept India’s improvement roadmap plan?

I am very doubtful on both.

Read more about the FAA IASA program.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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