Saturday, November 23, 2013

Directorate General of Civil Aviation taking measures to avoid US Federal Aviation Administration downgrade

NEW DELHI: The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), India's aviation safety and operations regulator, is rushing to plug the loopholes ahead of a second audit by the US' Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in December.

A senior DGCA official told ET that about 20 ex-commanders are being hired on a one-year contract as Senior Flight Operations Inspectors and Flight Operations Inspectors. Further, the safety and flight operations manuals are being updated as the regulator prepares for a December audit by the FAA. FAA officials are set to arrive in India by the second week of December.

The American aviation regulator had previously conducted a safety audit of the DGCA in September. The audit had thrown up 33 deficiencies in India which included a lack of adequate manpower, absence of key safety manuals, among others.

The audit had particularly hauled up the DGCA on the lack of adequate flight operations inspectors as the officers being hired in that position were from deputation from existing airlines resulting in a conflict of interest. "We had invited ex-commanders and pilots to apply for the post of Senior Flight Operations Inspectors and Flight Operations Inspectors," said a senior official of the DGCA.

"The response has been very good and we are hiring 10 ex-commanders for each of the two posts." FAA's September audit had also raised concerns on key vacancies in the DGCA. Lack of manpower is an issue that India's aviation regulator has been trying to address for some time now.

The DGCA has been hiring consultants on a contractual basis since the beginning of the year to fill up the vacant posts. "There are still some vacancies but we are much better than we were at the beginning of the year," the official quoted above said, without being able to give a number on the current staff strength.

Till July 2013, the DGCA only had 421 people in the organization against a sanctioned staff strength 574 officials.

The government also cleared a bill to create a financially autonomous and more powerful Civil Aviation Authority which would replace the DGCA. The formation of the CAA would make India's aviation regulator similar to global regulators. However, the bill needs be cleared by Parliament.

"Apart from our hiring activities, we are in continuous consultations with the FAA and are updating and providing safety and operations manuals as per internationally acceptable levels," the official quoted above said.

With the second audit from the FAA being held in a span of less than three months, a threat of a downgrade looms over the DGCA.

DGCA hopes that the corrective measures will be enough to avoid a downgrade of its safety ratings by the FAA. "Whatever corrective measures can be taken in this short time frame are being taken and we don't expect a downgrade after the December audit," said the official quoted above. "All options are being considered to make sure there is no downgrade. But we hope that the corrective measures ensure that the audit goes amicably."

Recent media reports suggested that India might stop taking deliveries for the Dreamliner for Air India, if the FAA downgrades the DGCA. Officials at the DGCA did not comment on the matter. An e-mail query sent to the FAA did not elicit a response by the time of going to print.

Apart from the FAA, the DGCA was also audited by the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) in September. India managed to escape a downgrade by the ICAO.

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