As the November deadline approaches for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to assess the Indian government’s record in managing aviation, gaps in the country’s safety regulations could lead the FAA to downgrade India to Category 2 status, according to a report issued recently by the Center for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA). Under Category 2, Indian carriers could not start new service to the U.S. Its current Category 1 status allows its carriers to operate to the U.S and take part in reciprocal code-share arrangements with U.S airlines. India also enjoys an open-skies agreement with the U.S. In just the last two years, Indian domestic airline traffic has grown by 36 percent, while Indian airlines have registered a 19-percent increase in international traffic. “Near-term safety risks are being compromised as traffic increases at a dramatic rate,” concluded CAPA. “The long-term institutional strengthening of the regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), should be the highest priority.”
The FAA found severe understaffing at the DGCA when it conducted its International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) in India in 2009 to review the country’s compliance with ICAO’s recommended practices. The FAA estimated then that the DGCA required 500 people. “The DGCA remains under-resourced,” Kapil Kaul, CAPA’s CEO for South Asia, told AIN. “Although 136 officers are in the process of being recruited, this is just the first step. However, you cannot get expertise and do training overnight. In 2012 the number should be higher, and even more in 2015. The DGCA is getting weaker and the situation is dire.”
In a move widely considered politically motivated, the government’s civil avation ministry recently dismissed India’s civil aviation director general, Bharat Bhushan, after he questioned the safety practices of some domestic airlines. India’s Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council has not held any meetings for the past year. “Incident and operational data analysis is poor and an independent accident investigation bureau or a safety board are yet to be established,” said CAPA. A plan to establish an independent Civil Aviation Authority to regulate safety issues in India appears stalled. “By the time the CAA is set up, it will take at least 12 to 18 months, and safety cannot wait,” said Kaul.