Air India is coming to Washington; before the 1st Flight maybe FAA inspectors should go to New Delhi

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Nonstop Service Between Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) & Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD)

This economic bridge should provide leverage for the FAA to deal with India’s CAA

The Safety of an airline does not depend on the standards or strength of its aviation safety oversight organization. The management of the air carrier sets the company’s standards for safety of its operations and people.

A Civil Aviation Administration can correct for deficiencies of the airlines under its jurisdiction. A CAA sets a tone or a direction. Its surveillance cannot/ should not be 24/7/365; consequentially, the global system of safety regulation depends on the certificate holder to exercise the highest standards for all of its operations. This regime is the one sanctioned by ICAO and accepted by sovereigns around the world.

That said, the fact that Air India is bring new nonstop New Delhi to Dulles is good news.

air india iad Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe

Mayor Muriel Bowser and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe with Air India and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority today announced nonstop service between Indira Gandhi International Airport (DEL) and Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD). The new route, which will offer three nonstop, roundtrip flights per week starting in July, is estimated to bring $10 million to the District in total economic impact and $30 million annually to the region.

“Now, more than ever, we celebrate DC values as we continue to embrace the international community and showcase the inclusiveness of the nation’s capital,” said Mayor Bowser. “This exciting opportunity will also be a significant driver of tourism and business in Washington, D.C. for years to come.”

The Bowser Administration worked closely with Governor McAuliffe of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and Air India to attract this new service. This collaboration demonstrates the value of states and municipalities working together to benefit the broader Washington, D.C. capital region.

“Today, we celebrate a new bridge between India and the Capital Region, showing that Virginia will continue to be open and welcoming to all international travelers,” said Governor McAuliffe. “The Commonwealth has made a significant commitment to growing our relationship with India in recent years and we are proud to be a new United States market with nonstop service from New Delhi. I look forward to welcoming many travelers, students, and business leaders to the Commonwealth through this new partnership.”

The District of Columbia plans to provide $250,000 in fiscal year 2017 to support the new partnership. In addition, Governor McAuliffe proposed a $1.25 million incentive package over a three-year period beginning in fiscal year 2018 to support Air India and stimulate travel to Virginia through Washington Dulles International Airport.

“The addition of nonstop flights from Dulles International to India is a huge ‘win’ for business and leisure travelers alike,” said Jack Potter, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. “The new nonstop capital-to-capital service on Air India will open a new level of convenience and connectivity between our two nations.”

In 2015, Washington, D.C. welcomed 80,000 visitors from India, making it D.C.’s sixth largest overseas market. Visitation from India to Washington, D.C. has grown 40% since 2013, when it ranked ninth. Also in 2015, one out of every 10 Indian visitors to the U.S. visited the capital region. An estimated 30,000 tourists and business travelers will visit the region on this new flight annually.

“Air India plans to add 35 new aircraft in 2017 as part of its current expansion and consolidation strategy, allowing us to serve both new domestic and international destinations,” said Air India Chairman and Managing Director Ashwani Lohani. “The Washington, D.C. Metro Area will become Air India’s fifth USA gateway after New York, Newark, Chicago and San Francisco, and reinforces our commitment to providing the most convenient service between the United States and India.” 

This economic bridge should provide leverage for the FAA to deal with India’s CAA.

Almost two years ago, with great fanfare, Secretary Foxx announced that the DGCA of India had been upgraded to Category 1 (meets ICAO standards) after a long FAA International Aviation Safety Assessment review. Soon thereafter, it has been reported that the FAA’s “approval” was conditioned by four points with which the DGCA must comply (see below) sometime in the undefined future. The deficiencies were identified as follows:

  • “The local aviation regulator would have to hire a total of 72 flight operations inspectors (FOIs),
  • recertify all scheduled airlines,
  • recertify all non-scheduled operators (NSOPs) and
  • recertify all flying training organisations to retain the top ranking.”

There is no FAA public record of any resolution of these deficiencies.

There is, however, an important international event looming.

air india iad

They’re back!!! The ICAO Universal Safety Oversight Audit Program auditors are coming to India in March, 2017. They were last there in 2012 and then it was determined that the DGCA qualified as one of the thirteen worst Civil Aviation Authorities around the world. The USOAP involves the review of a sovereign’s aviation safety program by a UN Organization of which India is a dues-paying member. Talk about a difficult government-to-government moment. ICAO wanted to conduct the audit in March but agreed to defer the review eight months later, November, 2017. 

There are more than a few interesting reports from India about its own safety authority. It is difficult to assess the validity of 3rd party reports; so, without subscribing to their authenticity, here are the reports: 

The 422 enforcement actions by DGCA included suspensions, de-rostering staff (taken off flying duty) and warnings. While 272 crew members were suspended, 42 pilots were de-rostered and 108 were warned. These violations were 54 per cent higher than the regulatory action taken against 275 cockpit and cabin crew members in 2015. The maximum suspension period for airline staff is eight weeks, in which time they are given corrective training before being allowed to fly again.

air india iad penalties

April 10, 2015 3:17 am

“The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has initiated the process of recertifying all airlines in the country to ensure full compliance with international norms.

While the regulator recertified the two airlines Air India and Jet Airways operating to the US, ahead of an audit by USA’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in December last year, recertification process has now started for IndiGo, SpiceJet, GoAir and AirAsia.

A senior official with the DGCA said, “Vistara and Air Pegasus have received their Air Operator’s Permit (AOP) as per the new guidelines laid down in CAP 3100 certification process. All other airlines will now have to go through the recertification process. It will ensure that the airlines have all the documents in place according to current global standards.” He clarified this process will not hamper the operations of these airlines.

The official said that the airlines will have to submit all manuals required and have to conduct validation flights to prove that they have all systems in place. The recertification or issue of fresh AOPs, under the new CAP 3100 norms that came into effect only in 2012, will be completed in the next three to four months.

The recertification process has been initiated at a time when FAA restored Category 1 status to India’s aviation safety oversight mechanism, fourteen months after it had downgraded the DGCA. The FAA had downgraded India to category II status in January last year on two key concerns — lack of training of its officials and lack of full-time Flight Operations Inspectors (FOIs) on DGCA’s rolls.

The downgrade meant that no Indian airline could launch any extra flights to the US and the existing flights to America could be subjected to more checks. While the downgrade did not mean that Indian airlines were unsafe, it showed that the DGCA was not adequately equipped to properly monitor the safety performance of Indian carriers. The downgrade had additionally barred Indian airlines from code-sharing with their American counterparts.

However, analysts say that the Centre needs to continuously work to ensure better functioning of DGCA. “DGCA needs continuous improvement in its systems, processes, manpower, training and transparency. Its financial and operational independence has to be enhanced. The industry hopes that the Category 1 upgrade should lead to further reforms. And soon,” said Amber Dubey, partner and India head of aerospace and defence at global consultancy KPMG.”

star alliance air india iadTo repeat, these problems should not allow one to conclude that Air India is lacking in safety standards; two separate ratings (JADEC and rank it well among the world’s carriers. Enforcement sanctions, in and of themselves, do not correlate with airline accidents; in fact, the FAA is moving away from civil penalties as a means of improving safety.

Perhaps a more current and especially insightful measure of air carrier safety can be gleaned from airline alliances. Air India is a member of the Star Alliance. The partner airlines interact with Air India on a daily basis, observe their pilots and mechanics close up (at some airports they may share ground crews) and have the insider knowledge of how the other members’ safety cultures rank. The Star Alliance Members (Air CanadaAir China, India, Air, ANA, Asiana, Austrian, Lufthansa, SAS Singapore Airlines, South African Airways, SWISS, and United Airlines (among others) have a strong motivation to assure that their partners operate at high levels of safety.

All that said, Secretary Chao, it might be effective to use the new service as a fulcrum to reexamine the Obama/Foxx upgrading of the DGCA. Yes, India is the second most populous country in the world (1.2 billion) and it is seventh-largest by nominal GDP and third-largest by purchasing power parity. Its economy is growing dynamically. As President Obama visited this country for its national holiday, problems which had held to a Category 2 status were diminished or reassessed as “deficiencies” needing to be rectified. News out of India, perhaps inaccurate, suggest that the DGCA is “moving with all deliberate speed,” a Supreme Court euphemism intended to be sarcastic. NOW WOULD BE A GOOD TIME TO TAKE A FRESH LOOK; MAYBE NEW DELHI MIGHT ACT ON ITS PROMISES.


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3 Comments on "Air India is coming to Washington; before the 1st Flight maybe FAA inspectors should go to New Delhi"

  1. When Indian DGCA has been re-upgraded to Category One, then as per ICAO they should be able to fly direct to any country that is it’s member. Yes TSA clearance for that airport would be necessary to land in the US . But this must already have been done before they announced their flight.

  2. Maybe this is why Category 1 was granted “Airbus to strengthen ‘Make in India‘ programme”–

  3. Mr. Zafar, you are correct. With the Category 1 status, Air India may fly. That was not the point of the post. The visibility of an Indian carrier flying to IAD creates a reason for the USG to examine whether the DGCA has met its commitments to Sec. Foxx. Also the recent press reports from India suggests that the DGCA is not completely compliant.

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