Is IDGCA not instilling in Air India attention to details?

air india seat belt idgca
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Air India

IDGCA Category I Status in Question

The FAA technically found that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation of India has attained the much desired Category I status, although the circumstances (a Presidential visit for Republic Day celebrations on January 26, 2015) created an aura, which suggested that all was not truly Category I. That cloud was further darkened when the terms were announced—conditioned {an unusual if not unique term in such grants} on compliance with 4 yet-to-be-implemented requirements—correction of deficiencies!

india idgca aviationSubsequent reports after the Republic Day celebrations by the national press suggested that the IDGCA had more work to do.

An aviation consumer report, Boarding Area, of this most recent incident about an FAA ramp check of Air India (government-owned enterprise) LTD’s B-777 was as follows:

The surprise check by the [FAA] found a large number of belts on seats of the Delhi-bound Boeing-777 (VT-ALK) without the mandatory tags bearing their technical standard order (TSO) number.

air india idgca category 1

Per the FAA

A Technical Standard Order (TSO) is a minimum performance standard issued by the United States Federal Aviation Administration for specified materials, parts, processes, and appliances used on civil aircraft. Articles with TSO design approval are eligible for use on the United States type certified products.

In plain English, the FAA had no way to tell if the safety belts were certified and therefore safe.

Deliberate Targeting of Air India?

Air India is indignant that it was subjected to so strict a check. A spokesman stated–

The seat belts were perfectly fine. Only some had tags worn out. This is an instance of impractical or irrelevant stipulations being imposed on Air India by FAA. However, we would take necessary action to ensure such things don’t recur. A lot of new seat belts have been ordered.

The Times of India added comments from AI, the country’s national carrier:

A senior AI official said that FAA is subjecting the Maharaja’s aircraft to stringent checks at all the stations it flies to — New York JFK and Newark, Chicago, Washington and San Francisco. “The checks have intensified in the recent past. While technically FAA was correct in pointing out the missing TSO tags, we told them that new seat belts have been ordered and the old ones will be replaced very soon. Still the aircraft was not allowed to take off till we got some belts from another of our aircraft.”

The Boarding Area’s explanation of the importance of a TSO tag is correct and inspection of it is essential to knowing whether the belt is safe. Inspection for the TSO labels is called out in the FAA’s PTRS guideAssuming that inspectors follow these instructions, the examination of the tags was not unusual.

Exactly this sort of failure to scrutinize the details of airworthiness is an essential element of aviation safety. The carrier’s less aggressive approach to the little things which do matter may reflect a lackadaisical attitude by the IDGCA and suggests that the conditional Category I status should be reopened!

indian aviationThe senior AI official use of the term “Maharaja” was unfamiliar and a google search revealed that it is the logo for the airline and is intended to connote the imperial service of that historical figure of India. In researching this appellation further, an interesting article, Can Air India be worthy of its Maharaja again?, was found. The author suggested that aviation minister P Ashok Gajapathi Raju that the Maharaja should be replaced by “the aam aadmi[i] as the mascot for Indian aviation”.

While the FAA senior staff may have granted the IDGCA Category I status, the field inspectors evidentially do not share that opinion and these articles (attitudes more than alleged violations) support the lesser opinion. MAYBE aam aadmi, as an inspirational mascot, would help inspire the IDGCA and AI to focus on the details.


Air India flight in US denied take-off over seat belt tags

[i] literal translation: “common man” (ām meaning common + ādmī meaning man) — is a Hindustani colloquial expression and the equivalent of “the Average Joe.”

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