FAA restores India’s Category 1 aviation safety rating

It was on the 31st January 2014 that the FAA downgraded India’s aviation safety rating to Category 2 after it had been having concerns since 2009. Back then, the FAA, who were concerned by what it felt was gross under-staffing, especially in the Directorate of Airworthiness, warned of their intention to downgrade India to Category II status. Rapid response saw the implementation of several remedial measures and with the Indian Cabinet committed to recruiting more than 500 additional staff, allowing India to pass its next FAA audit, so retaining its Category 1 status. However the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, Government of India, (DGCA) took its eye off the ball with a succession of four Director Generals in as many years. The DGCA had estimated it needed 928 members of staff to oversee India’s airlines, but up until 2014 only 400 positions had been filled. As a consequence the FAA lost confidence in the DGCA and demoted its safety rating owing to a lack of safety oversight.
The implications of this were such that no new services could fly to the USA and nor could there be any code sharing with US airlines. This primarily affected India’s two international airlines, Air India and Jet Airways. The downgrading was extremely embarrassing to what was seen as one of the world’s fastest emerging aviation markets. Despite the fact that Mexico, having lost its Grade 1 status, managed to get it restored within 4 months back in 2010, for most airlines, it can take many years to regain grade 1 status. Recent downgrades saw Israel taking four years to get theirs back, the Philippines five years, and all eyes are still on Indonesia after more than six years of safety issues.
US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said that “The United States Government commends the Government of India for taking corrective action to address the safety oversight issues identified during the IASA (International Aviation Safety Assessment) process,” after meeting India’s civil aviation minister in Delhi. In 2013-14 International passenger numbers to and from India grew 6.9% to 43 million, which was down from the double-digit growth seen in several years before 2012. Vistara, which is India’s newest airline, indicated last week that it intends to start flying overseas ahead of the anticipated change in rules that will permit new carriers to operate abroad.

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