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Corporate Nov 21, 2013

Will US aviation authority downgrade India’s air safety ranking?

By Uttara Choudhury

New York: The powers that be in India's civil aviation ministry are in a pickle because the chief US aviation regulator, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), could potentially downgrade India to Category 2 after a planned audit in December.

The FAA does not audit a country's airlines but rather its civil authority (its FAA equivalent) to determine whether the government has the appropriate practices and manpower in place to oversee the airlines that fly in and out of US airports.

Back in September, a FAA audit considered airworthiness and operations issues related to India's Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). The safety areas reviewed by FAA threw up at least 33 deficiencies.

Ajit Singh. PTI

Ajit Singh. PTI

With the threat of a downgrade looming the DGCA is bracing for a second audit by the FAA planned for the second week of December. FAA inspectors will be checking in to see if the DGCA has addressed and fixed the issues the US regulator had noted in its September audit.

Some of DGCA's deficiencies relate to lack of trained experts, safety areas related to approval of major maintenance work performed on aircrafts, the absence of proper documentation and conflict of interest.

An Indian delegation to the India-US aviation summit in Washington led by Aviation Minister Ajit Singh was given a fair heads-up that India might be downgraded if it did not fix the country's aviation safety oversight. That was in October and it's still unclear if the DGCA has taken the bull by the horns.

"The problem lies in the current government trying to do a cosmetic job on DGCA deficiencies so that the status quo can remain until a new government takes office after general elections due by May next year," reported the Mint.

Instead of tackling the problems, it seems that India shockingly is trying to play hardball with the FAA by threatening America where it hurts - retaliating by holding off on scheduled deliveries of Boeing's 787 Dreamliners to Air India.

"There will be an equal and befitting response which will include a one-year ban on delivery of any new Boeing Dreamliners for Air India," an official familiar with the matter told Mint.

A Boeing spokesperson in the US declined to comment when Firstpost sought a confirmation to the news.

Boeing has a $6 billion order from Air India for 27 Dreamliners. Air India already operates flights to Dubai, Paris and Frankfurt with Dreamliner jets, and has recently taken delivery of the sixth of 27 Dreamliner planes ordered in January 2006.

Another six jets are scheduled to join Air India's fleet by December. Air India plans to induct the remaining 15 Dreamliners through 2016. Boeing's Dreamliner with a list price of $207 million is the cornerstone of Air India's fleet renewal strategy. At least 50 airlines, including Air India, bought into the Dreamliner, banking on the fuel-efficient jet to offer a competitive edge.

A FAA downgrade of India's aviation safety ranking would result in banning Indian airlines from code-sharing and service expansion in the US. In case of a downgrade by the US agency, no new flights by domestic airlines like Air India and Jet Airways would get permission to fly to the US. Mint speculated that it may also hurt Singapore Airlines and AirAsia Bhd that have proposed joint ventures with Tata Sons and may want to fly to the US.

In August this year, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) gave the DGCA a clean chit after a review. For the last two years, the UN safety agency's audits have raised safety concerns with the Indian government's ability to oversee airline safety. This has had ramifications for Indian airlines, including for example Japan's refusal to allow additional Air India flights. It also led to the FAA's current audit.

The FAA, in 2008, downgraded the Philippines to Category 2 following a November 2007 audit that found that the country was not compliant with international safety standards.

by Uttara Choudhury

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