New Delhi: US aviation regulator, the Federal Aviation Authority, or FAA, has completed the second stage of a review of its Indian counterpart, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, or DGCA, and has given it time until June to strengthen staffing before it takes any action.
The FAA review, the second such assessment since December, covered safety procedures implemented by DGCA and checked if they met benchmark standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization, or Icao.
The review could potentially have resulted in a downgrade by FAA and adversely affected Indian carriers, especially National Aviation Co. of India Ltd-run Air India, as it would deny permission for any new flight to the US as also effectively block new commercial agreements between carriers of the two countries.
Air India has said it will connect New Delhi non-stop with San Francisco after August.
Going by Icao norms, India currently enjoys a so-called Category I status indicating the highest class of safety. It risked being downgraded to Category II in the review concluded earlier this month. Israel was the most recent country to be downgraded to Category II late last year.
“The threat of downgrade has passed for now,” said a senior civil aviation ministry official, who asked not be identified.
In its December review, FAA had found DGCA lacking in the human resources pool, especially in staffing related to safety oversight. It completed the second round between 16 and 20 March.
But the process is far from complete, said a DGCA official, who too requested anonymity, adding that a final call on the downgrade will be taken by FAA in June. Between then and now, several discussions will take place, he added.
FAA’s safety audits do not necessarily mean that airlines of the respective countries are not safe to fly but ascertain if the regulatory authorities are following international safety oversight procedures. “I really can’t say anything about India,” an FAA spokeswoman said on email last week in response to a detailed questionnaire. “We have not yet made any decisions or announcements (yet).”
The weeks to June will likely see hectic activity. The FAA team will present a report at the FAA headquarters, which will in turn write in a month to DGCA asking it to respond to the concerns of the findings and steps being taken. This will finally be evaluated during the next FAA visit in June.
“Only after that will they think about any downgrade. Till that time we retain our ratings. And once we are able to show that we are satisfactorily pursuing the commitments made, then the chapter will be closed once and for all,” the DGCA official said.
He insisted that, except on staffing criteria, the regulator has been fulfilling all other conditions.
To tackle that, the Indian regulator, knowing it will be a “long-drawn process” to get trained people on its rolls because of government procedures, has decided to pool 50 qualified people from the country’s airlines to help it with oversight work, this official added.
Besides, a “manpower augmentation” proposal has been submitted to the ministry of finance to recruit people in batches every year for the next five years.