The United Nations’ aviation watchdog, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), will in November conduct a 10-day audit of India’s aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
The outcome of the audit will have consequences for the expansion plans of airlines such as Air India and Jet Airways (India) Ltd and the international launch plans of the Tata-Singapore Airlines joint venture Vistara, which will meet government norms to go international in 2018.
“ICAO will be here from 6 to 16 November," said a government official who did not wish to be named.
In 2012, after an audit of the DGCA, ICAO placed India in its list of 13 worst-performing nations in terms of air safety.
That triggered an audit by the US aviation regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), in 2014. The FAA eventually downgraded India’s ranking, citing a lack of adequate regulatory oversight.
The ratings were restored in 2015. Indian airlines were not allowed to add new routes to the US or sign agreements with US airlines when the downgrade was in effect.
This year, ICAO wanted to conduct the audit in March but agreed to a request from the aviation ministry that it do so later, said a person aware of the matter, declining to be named. The ministry claimed Parliament would be in session then, this person added.
The UN watchdog has asked the ministry to consider a permanent chief for DGCA, preferably someone with technical knowledge of aviation, the person said.
Indian airlines are scheduled to induct 60-65 narrow-body aircraft and 10-12 smaller aircraft for regional routes in 2017-18, the highest in recent years, aviation consulting firm CAPA said in its 2017 outlook in December. It added that safety was an area of concern.
“Rapid growth is straining the system, increasing safety and security risks which may become visible in 2017-18 as traffic reaches higher levels," CAPA warned.
“The institutional and regulatory framework at the DGCA and the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security is particularly weak and under-resourced. And these issues do not appear to be receiving the urgent attention that they require," it said.
Vistara is set to have a 20-aircraft fleet in early 2018; that’s the number an airline needs to have to fly abroad.
Air India has said it wants to start non-stop flights to Washington and enter into more code-sharing agreements.
Jet Airways is adding long-haul planes that can fly to the US to its fleet.
The outcome of the audit will define the international expansion plans for these airlines in the winter of 2017 and into 2018.