Saturday, January 10, 2015

Obama visit likely to see Federal Aviation Administration revoking downgrade

US President Barack Obama may bring good news for the Indian aviation sector this Republic Day, as his visit coincides with the timing of a written report from the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on the audit conducted last month. Obama is the chief guest at the 66th Republic Day parade.

An internal note by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) says that the initial report on the audit conducted between December 8 and 12, 2014, will be sent by the FAA in over a month.

“The FAA team was very impressed with our improvement in processes. We expect that the US president might bring some good news for the aviation sector,” said a senior DGCA official, who did not want to be identified.

The FAA had downgraded India to category II status in safety oversight capability in January last year on two key concerns — lack of training of its officials and lack of full-time Flight Operations Inspectors (FOIs) on DGCA’s rolls. Both these issues have been resolved now.

In December, the FAA audited eight critical areas of India’s safety oversight system — primary aviation legislation, specific operating regulations, state civil aviation systems and functions, qualified technical personnel and their training, technical guidance, licensing, certification, authorization and / or approval obligations, surveillance obligations and resolution of safety issues.

“FAA has indicated some findings which are minor and resolvable. FAA has said it is one of the best assessments the team has seen. A formal communication for restoration of Category I is, however, likely to be made in mid-March 2015 post a consultation meeting between FAA and DGCA in the middle of February,” said the official quoted above.

The FAA downgrade has led to concerns being expressed by the civil aviation authorities of Singapore, Australia, Japan and Europe in the past one year. “We have had meetings with civil aviation authorities of Singapore, Australia, Japan and European Commission in February and again in November last year. All their concerns were addressed,” said the official.

The concerns raised by FAA, in safety audits conducted in September and December 2013, led to a downgrade last January barring all Indian airlines from expanding operations to the US and had further impacted code-share arrangements with American counterparts.

The DGCA has consequently attempted to fast-track processes and meet requirements pointed out by the FAA. The regulator has recruited 40 FOIs and institutionalised mechanisms within the organisation in areas of flight operations and airworthiness. The regulator has also established certification process for airlines ad recertified two airlines — Air India and Jet Airways — operating to the US.

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