Friday, October 31, 2014

India’s aviation downgrade by US Federal Aviation Administration set to be revoked soon

In what could be seen as the first positive impact of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States on the Indian aviation sector, India’s embarrassing downgrade by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) earlier this year could be revoked, with the FAA team slated to carry out another inspection on December 8 this year.

This also comes in the backdrop of a three-member team visiting Brussels in the first week of November for a meeting with officials of the EU Air Safety Committee to discuss measures taken by the Indian aviation regulator, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), to improve its performance after the FAA downgrade.

Finding regulatory oversight to be inadequate, the FAA had downgraded India from Category 1 to Category 2 under its International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program on January 31 earlier this year. The move has barred Air India and Jet Airways — the only two Indian airlines that operate to the US — from expanding their operations in the US and impacted codeshare arrangements with their American counterparts.

The DGCA needed to recruit 20 officials – chief flight operations inspectors (CFOI) — to deal with the staff shortage pertaining to Air India and Jet Airways. To improve it’s overall safety record, however, it needed to recruit 75 CFOIs.

“We have already recruited 56 new inspectors, of which 39 have already joined work, and the rest will join by next week. Applications are under process for rest of the 16 positions; and all 75 positions would be filled by November 16,” a senior DGCA official told The Indian Express.

While operations by Indian air carriers to and from EU are closely monitored through their Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft program (SAFA), the FAA’s downgrade essentially meant that the DGCA was below par in meeting standards in technical expertise, trained manpower and maintenance records of air safety. It did not have skilled technical staff in the organization.

“The FAA downgrade has a cascading effect, and the EU had raised concerns over the downgrade and the measures taken by the DGCA to better its performance. A DGCA team headed by Joint Director General Lalit Gupta will visit Brussels in the first week of November for a meeting with officials of the EU Air Safety Committee to discuss the measures taken,” an official said.

A Category 2 rating by the FAA has made India one of the 16 countries out of a total of 88 that have been assessed under IASA; the 16 include Bangladesh, Ghana, Indonesia, the Philippines and Nicaragua.

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Lake County, city leaders mark Lost Nation Municipal Airport (KLNN) transfer

After an eight-year layover, Lake County and its’s economic development agency have ceremonially taken over the Lost Nation Airport in Willoughby.

Members of the Lake County Port and Economic Development Authority, Willoughby and Mentor city officials and Lake County leaders gathered for a ribbon cutting Oct. 31 to commemorate the transfer at the Classic Jet Center at the airport.

“I think this is an exciting day,” said Mark Rantala, executive director of the Lake County Port and Economic Development Authority. “We are going to try to operate it as an effective business attraction tool for Lake County and support the business of Lake County who surround the airport and benefit from air service at their front door.”

The transfer was official Oct. 8 and moved the ownership from the city of Willoughby to Lake County and the Lake County Port and Economic Development Authority, a transaction that took eight years and was approved by the Federal Aviation Administration.

“The optimal course of action was for the authority to take over the airport from the city of Willoughby with the county as our cosponsor, and we would manage it as a self-supporting entity,” said Harry Allen, chairman of the Lake County Port and Economic Development Authority Board. “That is our goal and job at hand, and it is a big one but we are excited.”

The airport currently has 115 employees, and Allen said he hopes to add another 100 jobs in two years.

“I think that is a realistic goal,” he said. “At the same time, we have taken out all of the doubt for those people who are current lease holders, and there are many, who didn’t know what the future would be, so that solidifies their planning and enable them to consider new investment in their existing facilities and possibly new facilities.”

All three Lake County Commissioners were at the event to show support for the transfer.

“I’m a firm believer that government doesn’t create jobs, but I think government’s role is to make sure the proper infrastructure, property amenities and proper services are in place that will make business take off ... and I think that is what we have done here,” Commissioner Daniel Troy said at the event. “We didn’t really have any interest in getting into the airport business as a county, but there were a lot of people that felt this was a very important part of our economic infrastructure to maintain the presence of an airport in Lake County.”

He said the transfer will encourage investment in the property and the property surrounding the airport.

“I think by doing this today, we have made Lake County a little bit better,” Troy said. “This is a great day for Lake County because it will improve our economy and I think that is what we are all doing in partnership here.”

Willoughby Mayor David Anderson said at the event that it was a “surreal moment” for him.

“I don’t feel like I am withdrawing Willoughby from the airport,” he said. “We know Willoughby is going to be a big part of the future as is the city of Mentor, and we are going to be true partners here, Willoughby, Mentor and Lake County, in making this the very best airport it can be.”

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