U.S. Downgrades India’s Safety Oversight Rating

AIN Air Transport Perspective » February 3, 2014
Air India flies Boeing 777-200LRs to the U.S., but can't add further service until India achieves a Category 1 safety rating. (Photo: Boeing)
January 31, 2014, 11:51 AM

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has downgraded its International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program rating of India from a Category 1 to a Category 2 based on a recent reassessment of the country’s civil aviation authority. Under Category 2, India’s airlines can continue to fly existing service to the U.S., but they cannot establish any new service until the FAA reinstates the country’s Category 1 status.

The ruling announced on Friday means that, in the FAA’s estimation, India’s civil aviation safety oversight regime does not comply with the international safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).

The FAA action, which puts India in the company of Zimbabwe, Paraguay and Indonesia, is “surprising and disappointing,” said India’s Minister of Civil Aviation, Ajit Singh. The downgrade puts on hold any U.S. expansion plans of Jet Airways and Air India, the only two Indian carriers that fly to the country. However, UAE-based Etihad Airways might feel the most profound effect.

“Etihad, which had plans to tap the growing Indian market to the U.S., will be the most affected as it can no longer use Jet’s additional aircraft on codeshare to the U.S. via Abu Dhabi,” said an Indian civil aviation ministry official. “This decision will send a scare and dampen confidence of Gulf carriers in discussions for investment with budget GoAir and SpiceJet following the government having opened up foreign airlines for equity participation.”

A December 2012 ICAO audit identified deficiencies in the ICAO-set global standards for oversight of aviation safety by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. Subsequently, the FAA began a reassessment of India’s compliance with ICAO standards under the IASA program, which monitors adherence to international safety standards and practices.  The FAA said it consulted “extensively” with the DGCA and other Indian government ministries during meetings in India in September and early December, as well as in meetings this week in Delhi. U.S. authorities said they will continue to work with the DGCA to identify the steps India must take to regain Category 1 status.

Notwithstanding its relegation to Category 2, India has made “significant” progress toward addressing the “issues” identified during the September IASA assessment, said the FAA. India recently approved the creation of 75 posts in the DGCA’s flight standards directorate. However, a DGCA official told AIN that the directorate has not yet hired anyone, largely due to a shortage of experienced inspectors.

U.S. and Indian aviation officials have developed an important working relationship as our countries work to meet the challenges of ensuring international aviation safety,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta. “The FAA is available to work with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to help India regain its Category 1 rating.”

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