India's embarrassing downgrade by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been revoked, said an official.
US authorities have upgraded India’s aviation safety rating, in a boost for Indian airlines which can now increase the number of flights they operate to the United States – this will especially benefit Air India and Jet Airways.
US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said on Wednesday that India had taken corrective action to address the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) concerns, after the regulator downgraded India’s rating to category 2 from category 1 in January last year, citing a lack of safety oversight.
The decision, which takes the rating back to category 1, was expected as Indian aviation authorities had said they were working hard to win back the higher rating.
Foxx did not specify the action India had taken but a person with knowledge of the decision said authorities had recruited more flight operations inspectors and streamlined certain procedures to improve safety.
The upgraded rating is expected to help Jet Airways and state-owned Air India, the two Indian airlines which currently fly to the United States. The downgrade had meant both carriers could not increase flights to the country and faced extra checks for existing ones.
“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,” Foxx said in a statement after meeting with India’s civil aviation minister in Delhi.
India first achieved a category 1 rating in 1997.
Shares in Jet, which said it had no immediate comment, were down 3 percent at 0926 GMT against a 0.7 percent rise in the benchmark index.
An Air India spokesman did not respond to a request for comment.
“The U.S. is a very important destination for Indian travellers. It will have a positive impact not just on our airlines but on the Indian aviation sector in general,” said Dhiraj Mathur, who leads PwC’s aerospace practice in India.
Air travel in India is growing rapidly as more people fly abroad for the first time, although not as fast as the domestic market where low-cost carriers including IndiGo and SpiceJet dominate.
International passenger numbers to and from India grew 6.9 percent in 2013-14 to 43 million, official data shows, down from the double-digit growth in traffic seen before 2012.
Vistara, India’s newest airline, said last week it plans to start flying overseas ahead of an expected change in rules that would allow new carriers to operate abroad.
The FAA’s decision comes amid heightened recent scrutiny on aviation safety in Asia. South Korea, Japan and China last month stopped Thailand-based airlines from flying charters and new routes because of safety concerns highlighted by an international audit. The restrictions, though, have been selectively relaxed.
Govt to strengthen aviation security, increase manpower at BCAS
On Tuesday, government revealed that it is in the process of hiring more personnel to strengthen civil aviation security in view of increased threat perception and rising untoward incidents globally.
This proposal to ramp up manpower at the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS), the nodal security agency for the civil aviation sector, came at a time when carriers are expanding their fleet to meet rising passenger traffic.
Acknowledging that BCAS is “badly understaffed” and has constraints in carrying out its functions, Civil Aviation Secretary V Somasundaran said there is a proposal to increase head count at the security agency.
“It (BCAS) is badly understaffed. There is a proposal to increase the manpower,” he said at a function to mark the 28th anniversary of BCAS.
Noting that the agency’s responsibilities are increasing in the wake of rise in both passenger and cargo traffic, Somasundaran said, “Fifteen new airports are expected to come up in the next two to four years. Also, passenger traffic has shown healthy growth in the last one to one-and-a-half years.”
He said that civil aviation security is a critical issues, especially since the country has porous borders, and also referred to a recent incident at the Mumbai airport where a passenger jumped out of an aircraft after landing.
Citing the daily reports provided by CISF, Somasundaran said there are “several problem areas” in respect to security.
CISF looks after security at over 55 airports.
Speaking on the occasion, Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju said internal and external security angles have to be addressed to achieve a foolproof safety for fliers and aircraft. “We have managed to get an impression that Indian skies are relatively safe,” he said, lauding the role of BCAS in this regard.
However, threat can come from anywhere and the security policy should be one stop ahead of a criminal mind, he said.
The minister stressed that security measures should be meaningful without obstructing economic activities as growth in civil aviation sector has a direct impact on the economic growth of the country.
Minister of State for Civil Aviation Mahesh Sharma said security is a matter of real concern. The government is working on efforts to strengthen the facilities available for BCAS and the agency would also have a “R&D (Research and Development) facility,” he said.
“The lessons derived from accidents and experiences make it necessary for a formation like BCAS to have an integral R&D wing,” Sharma said.
BCAS should focus on upgradation of security measures in compliance with international standards while strengthening preparedness for any eventuality at airports, he said.
“Presence of mind and competence to take on-the-spot decisions should be the essential component of any security measures,” he added.
Joint Commissioner of Security (Civil Aviation) at BCAS B B Dash said nothing is foolproof as far as security is concerned, regardless of technology and strength of manpower.
According to BCAS, last year it carried out 166 audits and inspections, 75 anti-hijack mock exercises and 333 surprise checks. Besides, it also arranged for Aviation Security (AVSEC) training of 24,803 persons.
Recently, all national documents have been revised and brought in line with the latest regulations of the International Civil Aviation Organization.
With Reuters and PTI Inputs