Sunday, January 19, 2014

Cabinet to take up special workforce case for Directorate General of Civil Aviation: Move comes in backdrop of an imminent downgrade by U.S. Federal Aviation Administration of India’s air safety rankings

New Delhi: The cabinet will on Monday consider a proposal by the aviation ministry to create 75 new positions at India’s understaffed aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

The proposal was prepared last week and a special clearance is being taken in the backdrop of an imminent downgrade by the US’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of India’s air safety rankings, said an aviation ministry official who declined to be named.

“We do not want them (FAA) to take any untoward decision... we have already met 29 of the 31 points mentioned by them,” this official said.

FAA in December inspected DGCA to determine if it had taken action to correct 31 deficiencies that came to light in a September audit.

An FAA downgrade of India’s air safety rankings will effectively bar Air India Ltd and Jet Airways (India) Ltd from increasing flights to the US or having code-share relationships with any US airline.

DGCA has been short on staff since early last decade as many staffers retired and not enough replacements were hired even as airline passenger traffic grew six times in that period.

FAA mentioned this as one of the main problems with DGCA, questioning the Indian regulator’s ability to oversee India’s burgeoning air traffic.

“Once the cabinet clears this proposal on Monday we will be able to hire professionals from the market. Then only one point (from the audit) will be left—that is, to train DGCA officers on various aircraft type like the new Dreamliner,” the official quoted above said. “That will take time as it needs to be done over time in batches.”

A second official confirmed DGCA’s efforts to get cabinet approval for its proposal on Monday. He also requested anonymity.

Another DGCA official, who also declined to be named, said some officials from private airlines have already started joining and sitting in DGCA headquarters on year-long dedicated sabbaticals to oversee regulatory work.

Many trained professionals like pilots, who are paid nearly six times the salary the highest-ranking DGCA official gets, are unwilling to join the regulator full time at lower wages.

In November, the Prime Minister’s Office intervened in the matter, with the Prime Minister’s principal secretary Pulok Chatterji, foreign secretary Sujatha Singh, then aviation secretary K.N. Srivastava and other top civil servants reviewing the issue and deciding on allowing a proposal through the finance ministry to provide market-based salaries to DGCA staff, like is done in the case of state-run Air India.

DCGA is supposed to be replaced with a new Civil Aviation Authority, which is currently under consideration by the Parliamentary Standing Committee.

But that proposal is likely to be delayed as “a key concern with the proposed structure is that the appointments are made by the government based on the recommendations of a selection committee composed of bureaucrats... whereas the objective should ideally be to achieve independent regulation by industry experts”, consulting firm Capa Center for Aviation said in its January report.

Some aviation experts, however, remain skeptical over the creation of new positions at DGCA.

“If they have not done anything for 5 years they are not going to do anything now,” said Mohan Ranganathan, aviation analyst and member of the government-appointed Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council. “The proximity of airlines and business jet operators with the DGCA has grown too close for comfort over the last few years, raising concerns over how many safety findings are genuinely found and corrected.”


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