Even as the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) restored India’s safety oversight to Category 1 in March following a 14-month downgrade to Cat-2 under its International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program, Indian authorities will make presentations this month on their country’s safety status to the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
As India looks to expand its economic footprint with fiscal engagement in the Asian region, air connectivity gains added importance, making it imperative to ensure and project a satisfactory air safety record. “Every country is concerned about safety and it cannot be compromised,” Indian minister of civil aviation Ashok Gajapathi Raju told AIN. “ICAO sets the standards and we were downgraded by the FAA…Now we’re back with many issues addressed.”
India’s Category 2 status signaled that its civil aviation safety oversight regime did not comply with international safety standards set by ICAO. Though India’s two airlines serving the U.S.—Jet Airways and Air India—could continue existing flights there, their Category 2 status meant they could not establish new service to the country nor code share with U.S. carriers.
The downgrade prompted international safety authorities to voice concerns. Following the downgrade last year, India sent a team to Brussels to EASA, the head of the Indian Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), M. Sathiyavathy, told AIN. “[EASA has] asked us to explain how we will be able to sustain our position as Category 1 in the days to come,” she added.
While the FAA focused on safety elements such as airline operations, flight training organizations and India’s legal system, a comprehensive audit due from ICAO this coming November “will cover the entire gamut of civil aviation including airports, navigation, air traffic control along with FAA issues,” said Sathiyavathy. She stressed that India could sustain its position only “if we have the cooperation of all aviation-related stakeholders, and that can happen only if all of us feel safety is important.
“We have put systems in place including re-certification based on CAP3100, the new ICAO-recommended certification manual for airlines to ensure safety of passengers and student pilots is not compromised,” she added.
One of the main observations in the FAA audit involved the lack of flight operations inspectors (FOI), Sathiyavathy said. The FAA had objected to the DGCA deputizing FOIs from airlines rather than using those on its own rolls. Of the 75 FOIs required, the DGCA has managed to fill posts for 50. “We are trying to work as soon as we can on more hirings as this was one of the main issues of the FAA,” said Raju. “If conflicting interest comes in, it is not correct.”