New Delhi: The United Nations (UN) aviation watchdog has expressed grave concerns on India’s air safety, placing it among the 13 worst-performing nations on this count, according to excerpts of an audit report.

The International Civil Aviation Organization (Icao), of which India is a member, completed an audit of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in December and found it wanting in its ability to oversee safety issues.

“Icao has identified a significant safety concern with respect of the ability of this state (India) to properly oversee its airlines (air operators) under is jurisdiction," it said in its latest report, parts of which Mint has reviewed.

The organization has clubbed India with Angola, Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Lesotho, Malawi, and Sao Tome and Principe.

A DGCA spokesman dismissed the concerns as “procedural issues".

“We have taken corrective action, which has been accepted by Icao," the spokesman said. “This will be implemented by June 2013. Then we will invite Icao’s team to verify the action taken."

In its report, which is yet to be made public, Icao has also questioned India’s oversight on all aircraft operations, including charters and business jets.

“Icao has identified a significant safety concern with respect to the ability of this state (India) to properly oversee aircraft under its jurisdiction," the global agency has said.

This is not the first time Icao has raised such red flags. In its earlier audit in 2006, the organization had warned about air safety oversight in India, after which the US aviation regulator threatened to downgrade India’s safety ranking, a move that would have stopped Indian carriers such as Air India Ltd and Jet Airways (India) Ltd from adding additional flights to the US and forcing extra ramp checks on aircraft at US airports. The matter was taken up by the two governments and resolved.

India has a patchy air safety record in recent years. Nearly 300 people have lost their lives between Icao’s 2006 audit and the latest one completed in December. It conducts these audits every six years.

As many as 158 people died in India’s worst air crash in a decade in Mangalore in 2010 when an Air India Express flight IX-812 overshot a hilltop runway, charring people to death, including women and children, because rescue did not reach them in time.

The record of charter aircraft has been worse. Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Dorjee Khandu was killed with four others after when a Eurocopter B8 Pawan Hans helicopter crashed in bad weather in May 2011.

Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy died when his state government-owned Bell 430 helicopter crashed in a dense forest while flying to a village in Chitoor district in September 2009.

Ten people, including seven on board a medical ambulance aircraft of Air Charter Services India Pvt. Ltd, were killed when the flight to Delhi from Patna crashed into the roof of the two houses near the national capital in 2011.

The findings of the audit are alarming, according to Denzil Keelor, a former chief of the Indian Air Force and a former aviation regulator.

“It’s a very damaging statement," Keelor said, adding that DGCA has failed in its primary obligation to provide safe passenger travel. “Icao has made this remark because they (DGCA) have not been able to justify that they have been able to do their job," he said.

Keelor said the main reason for this is that DGCA is being run by bureaucrats and not experts such as pilots.

“The government is not serious about flight safety. Many DGCA officers are completely compromised. The first thing they do is ground the pilot (in case of an accident)," Keelor said. “You have to prevent accidents and incidents, and not cure them."

India is expected to be the fastest growing aviation market till 2031, Boeing Co. said in September.

The government had six years to make up for gaps found in the 2006 audit, but it was busy giving permission to private airlines to import aircraft and not ensuring there were enough people to watch over their upkeep, said Mohan Ranganathan, a member of the civil aviation safety advisory committee that was set up by the government after the Mangalore crash.

“The rapid deterioration in safety in the past one year is of serious concern," Ranganathan said. “Several aircraft were written off (scrapped), it did not wake them up. Several lives were lost, it didn’t wake them up. Maybe this international shame may wake them before more lives are lost."

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A matter of safety

•Nearly 300 people have lost their lives in air accidents in India between Icao’s 2006 safety audit of India and December 2012

•As many as 158 people died in the 2010 Air India Express IX-812 crash in Mangalore

•One plane each of Jet Airways, Air Deccan and Kingfisher Airlines has been written off in accidents since 2006

•Two state chief ministers—Andhra Pradesh’s Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy and Dorjee Khandu of Arunachal Pradesh—have died in helicopter crashes since the 2006 audit, among many other smaller crashes

•Icao says it has concerns over India’s ability to oversee the safety of airlines and aircraft under its jurisdiction

•India has been red-flagged on safety and clubbed by Icao with 13 nations—Angola, Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Lesotho, Malawi, and Sao Tome and Principe

•None of India’s neighbours—Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka or the Maldives—has been red-flagged

Source : Icao, civil aviation safety advisory committee

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