FAA downgrade: US to fund Indias efforts to boost air safety standards

Written by Roudra Bhattacharya | New Delhi | Updated: Jun 2 2014, 05:23am hrs
DGCAThe project has received approval from the finance ministry?s department of economic affairs and the external affairs ministry.
The US government will fund Indias efforts to upgrade its air safety standards, five months after the country saw its safety rating downgraded to category 2 by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

India has decided to opt for a bilateral assistance programme from the United States Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), under which private sector consultant, The Wicks Group PLLC (TWG), is being hired to monitor the countrys air safety preparedness.

Two officials in the ministry of civil aviation told FE that the regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) will start work with Washington-based TWG for a one-year contract starting Monday.

The project has received approval from the finance ministrys department of economic affairs and the external affairs ministry.

TWG has been engaged to help sustain the countrys air safety system under funding from the USTDA. The idea is that such problems like the downgrade cannot re-occur since they have a major impact on investment sentiments. The consultant was recommended by the FAA itself, so we went with them since the FAA needs to be satisfied that all its requirements are being met and they do not rake up problems later, the first ministry official said.

TWG will initially help the DGCA prepare for a fresh safety audit by the FAA in the next few months after which India hopes to regain the Category 1 status.

In the second stage, TWG will review and upgrade the regulators processes and oversight mechanism as per the FAA and International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) standards. Added a second aviation ministry official,

The contract will also include other work apart from helping us prepare for the fresh safety audit. TWG will look at our systems, help in standardisation with global norms and upgrade the training systems for DGCAs own inspection and certifying officers.TWG, which employs ex-FAA officials, has previously helped several other countries like Azerbaijan, Cape Verde, Trinidad and Tobago, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine to upgrade their air safety rankings.

The Wicks Group assists foreign civil aviation authorities with preparing for and responding to FAAs International Aviation Safety Assessment program audits and reviews, directed at a country achieving or maintaining an IASA Category 1 rating, the TWG website said. In April, TWG became a member of the US-India Aviation Cooperation Program (ACP) and the Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (IACC).

Involvement in the two organizations enhances TWGs ability to advise and support clients interested in pursuing aviation and business opportunities in India and the surrounding region, a new alert on the TWG website said. Founded in 2007, the ACP is a public-private partnership between the US FAA, USTDA, other US government agencies, and US companies.

While being a sore point in terms of national self esteem and business sentiments, FAA downgrade this January also meant that Air India and Jet Airways cannot add any new flights to the US . Existing code-share pacts for Jet with US-based airlines also stand suspended, while there has been a looming threat that aviation regulators from the European Union, Japan and other developed nations may follow the FAA with further downgrades.

DGCA writes to FAA, says its fit for Category 1 upgrade

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) wrote to the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) last week saying that it has completed all the requirements necessary for the latter to upgrade Indias air safety rating back to Category 1.

While the original plan was to approach the FAA for a fresh safety audit in June, the civil aviation ministry now expects to start the process in August.

Two issues had been remaining as of January this year when the FAA had downgraded the safety rating to Category 2 - the hiring of adequate number of flight operations inspectors (FOIs) and training of airworthiness officers. While the training was completed in March itself, the DGCA has also selected 35 FOIs for hiring in the first phase, a DGCA official said. This month, it will again advertise for posts of 16 more FOIs.

What the FAA had said was that we need an adequate number of FOIs as per the aircraft fleet of the country, they had not prescribed a number. Our calculation is that we need one FOI per 10 planes, and we have about 750 aircraft in the country across both the scheduled and non-scheduled operators, a DGCA official told FE.

He added, We have selected 35 FOIs, of which 15 are already with us and the rest 20 should join in a month. Some are coming from the Air Force, so they need about 45 days for discharge.

The hiring had started after the Cabinet in late January this year allowed DGCA to hire 75 FOIs on its pay rolls at salaries competitive with the prevailing market rate, instead of the previous practice where airlines sent its own staff to the DGCA on deputation as FOIs. The FAA had also highlighted that the previous practice has a severe conflict of interest.

We expect to go to the FAA seeking a fresh audit by August. The hiring of FOIs from our end is nearly complete, a civil aviation ministry official said.

The DGCA faces a major staff shortage that has been credited to being one of the major reasons for the downgrade. In all, the regulator has 1,250 total sanctioned posts, of which 613 are for key technical staff who among other things are tasked with aircraft health inspections.