In a huge embarrassment and setback for India, the US aviation regulator Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has downgraded the country’s aviation safety rating citing a lack of safety oversight.
India has been put in the Category II list by FAA and joins the likes of Ghana, Curacao, Serbia and Bangladesh. Minnows such as Malta, Fiji, Guatemala, Suriname, Samoa and even Pakistan enjoy a Category I rating.
The downgrade, the first ever in Indian aviation history, is likely to impact the global perception about India’s aviation safety.
It means that Indian carriers such as Air India and Jet Airways, which together operate 28-weekly flights to the US, cannot increase flights to that country nor have new code-sharing arrangements with American carriers. Indian flights can be subjected to additional inspections at US airports.
"This is a big national embarrassment. We couldn’t get our act together for five years," said Kapil Kaul, South Asia chief executive of aviation consultancy Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.
"This means very stringent oversight for existing operations to US."
In September 2013, the FAA began its reassessment of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the Indian aviation regulator. The FAA audit had raised 31 findings. When the FAA team visited India for a review in December, 24 findings had been addressed. By January, another five had been addressed and action taken on remaining two, said aviation minister Ajit Singh.
"The FAA has determined that India at this time is not in compliance with the international standards for aviation safety oversight. India will now be publicly disclosed as Category 2, indicating non-compliance with the international standards for aviation safety oversight," the US regulator said in a communication to India.
"Things would have been better if we had acted earlier," said Singh, adding, no time limit could be set for India regaining the Category I status.
"It’s very disappointing and also surprising. In our view, 95% of all the issues raised have been solved," Singh said, adding they would address all of FAA’s concerns by March.