India could face the possibility of downgrading of its aviation safety system by the US if it did not take urgent steps to strengthen institutions like DGCA to meet the challenges of a fast-growing air traffic, an aviation consultancy group has said.
In 2009, the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), concerned by what it considered to be gross under-staffing of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), had threatened to downgrade India to Category-II status.
However, swift steps on recruitment and promises for more time-bound measures led India to pass the FAA audit and retain its Category-I status that is on a par with developed nations.
"In the last two years alone domestic traffic has grown by 36% and international by 19%. However, there has been virtually no increase in resources at the DGCA so under-staffing is once again a major concern. FAA could once again threaten to downgrade India to Category-II," the Sydney-based aviation consultancy, Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA), said in a study.
It pointed out that since 2009, there have been a number of changes in key positions in the civil aviation ministry, including the DGCA, and "the momentum was lost".
The study came soon after EK Bharat Bhushan was removed abruptly as the aviation regulator and replaced by a joint secretary in the ministry, Prashant Sukul.
CAPA also observed "it is disappointing to note that the focus on safety which emerged in the aftermath of the Mangalore accident in May 2010 has evaporated."
Terming the safety report card "dismal", it said the civil aviation safety advisory council, set up to suggest steps to boost aviation safety, did not meet for a year, while incident and operational data analysis was "poor".
Despite announcements, an independent accident investigation bureau or a safety board was yet to be established, the CAPA report said.
A concerted effort to restructure the DGCA "appears to be on hold pending establishment of a new independent regulator" in the form of a civil aviation authority with more financial and functional autonomy, it said.
"As a result of these issues, regulatory oversight is weak which in a growing market increases near-term safety risks and CAPA believes that such concerns could lead to India once again being faced with the possibility of a downgrade by the FAA," the report said.
CAPA also recommended that long-term institutional strengthening of the DGCA organisation should be accorded the highest priority.
Though over 130 officers were in the process of being recruited, the major task would be to train them up to the required levels of expertise, it said.
"CAPA believes the weakness of the DGCA is one of the most critical issues for India's industry in FY13. Safety is paramount and without an independent and capable regulator India will not be able to achieve the standards which it must aim for," the report said.