New Delhi: India’s civil aviation regulator has decided to restructure its safety board and hire airline safety professionals ahead of an audit by the UN’s aviation watchdog ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization).

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) announced its intent, and advertised the positions on its website.

ICAO told the Indian regulator recently that it would come down to India to conduct an audit, its third in just over a decade, Mint reported on 12 February. Previous ICAO audits had highlighted the paucity of safety inspectors in DGCA. After its 2006 and 2012 audits, ICAO had placed the country in its list of 13 worst-performing nations.

US regulator Federal Aviation Authority followed ICAO’s 2012 audit with its own and downgraded India, effectively barring new flights to the US by Indian airlines. FAA is expected to visit India in the summer to review its downgrade.

The result of the ICAO and FAA audits will have a bearing on the ability of existing Indian airlines to operate more flights to the US and some international destinations and on new airlines’ ability to start flights to these destinations.

The regulator plans to hire three directors of safety on short-term contracts to be part of the accident investigation board, according to the information on DGCA’s website.

This is first time the DGCA is hiring external staff for this board, which is critical to ascertain the reasoning for any crashes, misses or other safety related events in the country.

These officers, the DGCA said on its website, must have at least 12 years of experience in aviation, specifically on the technical aspects, and have a degree in aeronautical engineering.

DGCA has been asked by international regulators to hire at least 75 flight inspectors. It has only 51. India’s private airlines offer better pay and perks to inspectors compared with DGCA. The aviation ministry told DGCA in January to speed up the recruitment and do whatever was necessary to get more inspectors on board, a government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

DGCA has also announced it will hire flight operations inspectors as consultants on a short-term basis for a period of one year with a fixed remuneration of 1.25 lakh per month.

“There will be a review after six months and subsequent continuation will be decided on the basis of outcome of the review," DGCA said in its advertisement.

The remuneration of 1.25 lakh is higher than the salary of many existing DGCA officers.

In its 2006 audit, ICAO said it found that “a number of final reports of accident and serious incident investigations carried out by the DGCA were not sent to the (member) states concerned or to ICAO when it was applicable". DGCA had also “not established a voluntary incident reporting system to facilitate the collection of safety information that may not otherwise be captured by the state’s mandatory incident reporting system".

In response, DGCA “submitted a corrective action plan which was never implemented", said Mohan Ranganthan, an aviation safety analyst and former member of government appointed safety council, said of DGCA. He added that the regulator will be caught out this time.

Restructuring DGCA is the key to better air safety, said former director general of civil aviation M.R. Sivaraman.

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