Safety audit stalls global expansion of Indian airlines3 min read . Updated: 21 Aug 2013, 12:09 AM IST
UN watchdog checking whether India has been able to address all the issues highlighted in its December audit
New Delhi: The poor performance of India in an audit by the United Nations aviation watchdog of how the country’s aviation regulator oversees safety procedures at airlines has crimped the efforts of Indian airlines to expand their international operations.
Japan has already told India it will not allow any new flights till all safety concerns highlighted in the report by the International Civil Aviation Organization (Icao) are addressed, said two government officials with direct knowledge of the matter. Other countries may follow suit.
In June, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of the US said it would conduct its own audit of India’s air safety processes. The trigger for this was Icao’s December audit.
Icao is currently checking whether India has been able to address all the issues highlighted in the audit. Its conclusion next month will decide whether Indian airlines such as Air India Ltd and Jet Airways (India) Ltd can expand their international operations without too much opposition.
“We had planned to have a hop flight, Delhi-Tokyo-Osaka...," said one of the two government official said cited above. “...but no new flights can be started unless the issue between the aviation bodies of the two countries is resolved regarding Icao’s observations. Air India is only incidental to the subject."
The airline has requested aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation to take up the matter. The airline has ordered 27 Dreamliners worth $6 billion that are joining its fleet in a phased manner, month after month, and which need to be deployed on long-haul international routes.
DGCA wrote to Japan this month asking for a clarification and seeking information about the status of the request by Air India, said the second official.
After the December Icao audit, Japan had sought from Air India all engineering and maintenance records of the Boeing 777 that it currently flies between Delhi and Tokyo, said the first official. This information has been given, he added.
The December audit found India 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," the agency said in its report, about which Mint reported on 10 March.
Icao clubbed India with Angola, Congo, Djibouti, Eritrea, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Lesotho, Malawi, and São Tomé and Príncipe.
In an earlier 2006 audit, Icao had warned India about air safety oversight, after which the FAA threatened to downgrade India’s safety ranking, a move that would have stopped Indian airlines such as Air India and Jet Airways from adding additional flights to the US and forcing extra inspections of their aircraft at US airports. The matter was subsequently taken up by the two governments and resolved.
Still, if the follow-up Icao audit and the FAA audit find the safety issues unresolved, the US and the European Union, too, may not be inclined to allow new flights by Indian airlines and will likely wish to review existing ones.
A three-member team from Icao’s headquarters is in the capital all of this week for the closure of audit findings. The FAA audit is scheduled for 9 September.
The FAA confirmed the audit. “I can confirm that, at the government of India’s request, the FAA is sending some people over next month (September)," an FAA spokeswoman said in an email, but declined comment on whether India faces the threat of a downgrade in safety rankings.
India has had 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. The agency conducts these audits every six years.
As many as 158 people died in the 2010 Air India Express IX-812 crash in Mangalore, and one plane each of Jet Airways, the defunct Air Deccan and the grounded Kingfisher Airlines Ltd have been written off in accidents since 2006.
To be sure, the Icao audit does not relate to the safety of Indian airlines, but only audits the oversight mechanisms of Indian regulator DGCA. Indian airlines typically fly new aircraft bought from Boeing Co. and Airbus SAS.
Mohan Ranganathan, an aviation analyst and a member of the government-appointed Civil Aviation Safety Advisory Council, said the civil aviation ministry needs to strengthen its regulatory oversight.
Most of the issues raised concerns about DGCA’s ability to oversee safety, he added, and with state-owned Air India’s expansion being affected, “it is about time India woke up instead of trying to sweep things under the carpet and pretend we are a safe aviation system".