Published on : Monday, February 3, 2014
The Civil Aviation Ministry of India has woken to creating better standards in aviation safety after being downgraded by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which announced a category II rating to the safety conditions of the airlines. The Ministry has announced that it will try to improve its rating to category I.
Despite moves such as hiring of 75 additional full-time inspectors in the Directorate General for Civil Aviation and their announcement to revise safety ratings in a press release, the FAA threatened to downgrade after India ignored several deficiencies pointed out by them in the UN International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) audit in December 2012.
The FAA explained in its press release that the downgrade signifies that India’s civil aviation safety oversight regime does not currently comply with the international safety standards set out by the International Civil Aviation Organization; however, the United States will continue to work with India’s Directorate General for Civil Aviation (DGCA) to identify the remaining steps necessary to regain Category I status for India.
According to the FAA press release, India first achieved a Category I rating in August 1997. Currently, only 15 of the 96 countries reviewed annually by the FAA are in Category II.
The downgrade, which places India in the same category as Nicaragua, Serbia and Ghana, means Indian carriers will be allowed to continue existing service to the United States, but will not be allowed to establish new services or routes for the time being.
Jet Airways and state-run Air India, carriers operating between seven and 21 flights to the United States weekly, are expected to feel the most significant consequences of the FAA downgrade. While the downgrade flags the DGCA’s safety oversight as problematic, it does not necessarily mean India-based carriers are unsafe.
On Friday, Jet Airways shares closed down 3.7 percent in Mumbai and dropped further Monday morning after United Airlines decided to suspend a code share partnership in light of the FAA downgrade. Plans to re-launch service to New York and open a Chicago route in early 2014 were also placed on hold as a result of the FAA decision.
In the past, FAA downgrades have created a ‘domino effect’ with other nations following suit in downgrading safety status. However, FAA downgrades have also historically been used as a tool to pressure countries into adopting more stringent regulatory schemes, with the FAA downgrading Israel, Mexico, Venezuela and the Philippines’ status in past years in order to encourage stricter safety and inspection procedures.
In response to the downgrade, a Civil Aviation Ministry source quoted by the Times of India stated, “We quickly expect to be back in Category I after being questionably downgraded last week. All the steps will be taken by then. If the downgrade is [still ] not reversed and our airlines flying to the US are harassed unnecessarily, we will retaliate [by] doing the same [to the U.S.].”
“Kumar is a very tough taskmaster. He will do what it takes to get DGCA back in Category I at the earliest. And if we are [still] wrongly kept downgraded and our airlines are harassed, Kumar knows what to do,” the top aviation ministry source continued, referencing former cabinet secretary Prabhat Kumar and hinting at tit-for-tat retaliation.
After a diplomatic spat between the U.S. and India strained relations between the two countries late last year, India may begin conducting checks on foreign aircraft and crew in response to a downgrade some view as an extension of the US-India dispute.
India is expected to resolve the FAA’s concerns by March, however, and seek a restoration of its Category I rating.
On the restoration of India’s rating, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta stated, “U.S. and Indian aviation officials have developed an important working relationship as our countries work to meet the challenges of ensuring international aviation safety. The FAA is available to work with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to help India regain its Category 1 rating.”
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