India's air safety is under scrutiny yet again with the International Civil Aviation Organisation planning an audit next summer. This will be its second audit of India within two years and the move raises concerns whether the country's aviation safety standards are in line with global norms.BS Bhullar, spokesperson for the civil aviation ministry, said an earlier audit in November 2015 had not covered areas like operations andairworthiness, which could be taken up in next year's audit, expected in April or May. Officials added the audit was not linked to any safety issues. Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju had in May informed Parliament that in 2015 India's compliance with quality control, the regulatory framework, and in-flight passenger and cargo security were assessed to be 99.25 per cent against a world average of 66 per cent. “The number of safety violations is rising and it indicates training standards and safety oversight are not adequate,” said Amit Singh, aviation expert and fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society.
In 15 months till March there were 35 near-misses in Indian skies. There were eight aviation accidents in 2015, up from six in 2013. These included four helicopter crashes and an Air India technician being sucked into aircraft engine in Mumbai last December. ICAO President Olumuyiwa Benard Aliu, observed the country had made significant progress in all the fields of aviation but work was required in personnel training, airports, accident investigation, and regulatory oversight of air navigation services.
“The Directorate General of Civil Aviation and the ministry of civil aviation will need to show clear cut steps and plans for capacity building and performance improvement. Air navigation operations improvement and lowering congestion are expected to be major audit findings while the ability to maintain effective safety oversight was missed out in the civil aviation policy,” said aviation expert Mark Martin. The ICAO had in its 2012 audit raised concerns over licensing of charter operators and airworthiness of aircraft modified abroad. The DGCA took steps to address the deficiencies and the issues were resolved in 2013.
The US Federal Aviation Administration in 2014 downgraded India’s safety ranking after finding deficiencies in regulatory oversight. The country was restored to Category I after 14 months in April 2015.
The downgrade meant Indian airlines could not add new flights to the US and American carriers could not code-share with their Indian counterparts. This affected the expansion plans of Air India and Jet Airways.
The FAA audit had expressed concerns over the lack of full-time flight operations inspectors in the DGCA. The government subsequently appointed 55 pilots as full-time flight operation inspectors. Among other steps taken by the DGCA were training aircraft airworthiness officers, issuing procedures for technical evaluation of new types of planes, and documentation of training.