New Delhi: The United Nations’ aviation watchdog International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has decided to conduct another safety audit of India’s air safety readiness. 

The outcome of the audit could potentially affect the international expansion plans of new and old Indian airlines.

“The ICAO team is expected to come in March. There could be minor issues but we don’t foresee any major issues because a lot has already been implemented (compared to previous audits). The finer picture will however emerge over the next few weeks once we start preparing for it," said a government official, who did not wished to be named.  

Anthony Philbin, spokesperson for ICAO, said the final “audit dates" are confirmed by the member state and the agency won’t comment on this. 

Part of the previous audit results have been placed online, he said.

India scored better than the global average in airworthiness, air navigation services, operations and licensing in the last audit conducted in 2015, according to the ICAO website. It scored low in legislation and organization and very low in accident investigation and aerodromes.

ICAO, of which India is a member, completed an audit of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in 2012 and placed the country in its list of 13 worst-performing nations.

This triggered an audit by US aviation regulator, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2014, which downgraded the country’s ranking, citing a lack of adequate regulatory oversight. 

Indian airlines were not allowed to add new routes to the US or sign commercial agreements with US airlines during this period. The rating were restored last year.

Besides Air India’s plans to connect Washington to India and code share with United Airlines, new airlines such as Vistara have also shown interest in long-haul flying.

To be sure, Air India, Jet Airways, IndiGo, SpiceJet, GoAir Vistara and AirAsia India have largely remained safe for flying and most have cleared the safety standards of the globally followed International Air Transport Association’s IOSA safety audit.

There has been one major crash in the past five years—158 people died in Mangalore in 2010 when Air India Express’s flight IX-812 overshot a hilltop runway.

Still, recent data shows increasing cases of what are called air incidents. 

There have been 280 incidents so far this year compared with 275 in all of last year, DGCA said in a handout last week. 

The government had also told visiting ICAO and FAA teams that it was going ahead with its plan to create a new and stronger aviation regulator, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

However, minister of state for aviation Jayant Sinha told Parliament last month that CAA was not required at the moment. 

The new ICAO audit is critical, said Mohan Ranganathan, a Chennai-based air safety analyst.

“The fact that they are coming back within two years indicates that they are not all that happy with India’s constant monitoring action," he said.