Friday, January 31, 2014

US Federal Aviation Administration downgrades Directorate General of Civil Aviation over aviation safety fears

NEW DELHI: Exposing the gross inadequacy of our aviation regulator to ensure safe air travel here, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has downgraded India's aviation safety ranking.

India has now been put in category II of safety ranking, from category 1 that directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA) was in earlier.

The decision was conveyed to DGCA's new chief Prabhat Kumar by an FAA delegation on Friday. The downgrade means that Indian carriers will now not be able to add flights to US. Also aircraft of Indian airlines that fly there — Air India and Jet Airways — can be be held indefinitely for checks there, which will make it difficult for them to adhere to schedule.

The first to be hit could be Air India which is supposed to join Star Alliance this summer. A number of US carriers are also part of this alliance but American laws prohibit them from entering into commercial relations like code share — a vital part of an alliance. So now if they will be able to do so with AI or not remains to be seen. Jet already has a code share with United.

India had for years been trying to evade a downgrade by US FAA due to the serious implications of such a move on Indian carriers by making tall claims on strengthening DGCA. But all that was mainly on paper and in reality the government has struggled to find someone to even head the regulatory agency.

After a recent audit last year, FAA found 33 inadequacies in the DGCA.

Like in the past, the government this time also tried to get away by making tall claims but the FAA did not buy the same now.

"This is a true reflection of the DGCA. Unlike the past when India and US ties wee very good and hence DGCA avoided a downgrade, the relations are not so strong now and hence the move. This will have very serious implications for Indian airlines," said a source.

The current category II ranking of India means that DGCA does not meet the norms of International Civil Aviation Organization standards in areas like technical expertise, trained personnel and record-keeping or inspection procedures.

Aviation minister Ajit Singh will brief the media on Friday afternoon on the issue.

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