Thursday, September 04, 2014

Federal Aviation Administration audit likely to take place in November

US's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is likely to visit India in November this year for a fresh audit of the country's aviation safety oversight mechanism.

A senior ministry official said, "The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) made a presentation before FAA on the corrective measures taken since the downgrade last week in the US. They are very satisfied with the action taken so far. A fresh audit should happen in the next 2-3 months."

While the DGCA has invited FAA officials to initiate the audit as early as next month, the US regulator may come in November. "FAA follows an August-September financial year. They have said it is more likely that they would be equipped to be in India for the audit in November", informed a senior official in the DGCA. The audit would pave the way for India to regain category I status in safety rankings of the US regulator.

FAA, in safety audits conducted in September and December last year, had expressed severe concerns over the lack of full-time flight operations inspectors (FOIs) in the DGCA and had subsequently downgraded India to category II of safety rankings, clubbing it with countries such as Zimbabwe and Indonesia. The downgraded has barred Indian airlines from expanding operations to the US and impacted code-share arrangements with American counterparts.

The DGCA, under its chief Prabhat Kumar, has been working overtime to fast-track processes and meet requirements pointed out by the FAA. The DGCA official added, "The FAA had not indicated how many FOIs we need to have on-board. The norm is to have one for every 10 aircraft. We have hired 56 FOIs, 38 of whom have already joined and are in various stages of the training scheduled. With these recruitment's we are more than equipped to carry out safety inspections on scheduled, non-scheduled, general aviation aircraft."

The Wicks Group (TWG) has been working with the DGCA under a bilateral assistance program funded by the United States Trade and Development Agency to enable India to regain category I status in safety rankings. TWG has former FAA officials on board and has previously helped countries like Azerbaijan, Cape Verde, Trinidad and Tobago, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine to upgrade their air safety rankings.

Earlier, DGCA did not have any regular FOIs. Pilots and commanders were seconded from scheduled airlines to carry out these functions. These commanders and pilots were paid by the respective airlines and not by the DGCA. Due to such a practice, there were possibilities of conflict of interest, a factor which was pointed out by FAA.

The DGCA had not been able to hire full-time FOIs due to its inability to pay them market-linked salaries. To address the concerns raised by FAA, the government sanctioned the creation of 75 posts within the DGCA in January this year to recruit pilots at market-determined salaries to attract talent.

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