India has moved up and down on FAA’s IASA ratings
The 2015 Upgrade occurred at same time as POTUS visit to New Delhi
Serious problems lingered
The FAA’s concerns about the Indian Directorate General of Civil Aviation is not new news, but it is big news in Delhi. The theme of this most recent series of articles, that the DGCA promises to implement the FAA’s recommendations, is a repetition of post audit promise with little or no noticeable advance.
One must assume that the past assurances were honestly made with good intentions. The inability to meet those commitments most likely reflected the budgetary limitations and slow pace of the country’s bureaucracy. Perhaps, the initial point of this five year governmental malaise explains why closure is elusive?
India lost its FAA IASA Category I rating in 2014 (1/21/2014) after holding the standard signifying compliance with ICAO standards for 16 years. The downgrading was based on very specific criticism:
The Government of India has made significant progress towards addressing issues identified during the September 2013 IASA assessment. On January 20, the Government of India took further steps to resolve outstanding issues when the Indian Cabinet approved the hiring of 75 additional full-time inspectors. The United States Government commends the Indian government for taking these important actions, and looks forward to continued progress by Indian authorities to comply with internationally mandated aviation safety oversight standards.
One year and one day thereafter, The Economic Times reported (1/22/2015):
The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) has expedited the process of upgrading India’s aviation sector to category I from II in view of US President Barack Obama’s state visit to India as chief guest for this year’s Republic Day celebrations.
The FAA, which met the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) last week, has said that the US regulator would be working faster to ensure that the Indian aviation sector gets upgraded as early as possible.
“An FAA representative, based in New Delhi, have indicated to us that the team from FAA will be visiting India for the final consultations during the middle of February. We should be able to get our Category I status back as soon as consultations get over,” said a DGCA official, who did not wish to be identified.
The earlier plan was to upgrade India by March this year. The official said the fact that FAA wants to start the consultative meeting in February is a good enough an indication that the US regulator is expediting the process.
“The dates decided post the audits were tentative. Normally, these tentative deadlines are rarely met due to other considerations of FAA, but their promptness is an indication that US President’s visit is helping us in getting the category upgrade,” the official added. While the FAA did not comment on other aspects of the story, it did admit that consultations are scheduled during February.”
Noted here in this Journal as (1/23/2015):
The US DoT press release headline (4/18/2015) read:
The announcement was made during a meeting between Secretary Foxx and India’s Minister of Civil Aviation, Ashok Gajapathi Raju in India’s capital city, New Delhi.
“U.S. and Indian aviation officials have an important, cooperative working relationship,” said Secretary Foxx. “The United States Government commends the Government of India for taking corrective action to address the safety oversight issues identified during the IASA process.”
“Our countries will continue to work together to meet the challenges of ensuring safety in international civil aviation,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.”
Omitted from the DoT Press Release were 4 terms of condition on the Category I grant, as noted in the article (4/22/2015) Aviation safety upgrade: DGCA asked to meet 4 pre-conditions. An except from this Journal (4/22/2015) puts this extraordinary codicil in context:
What are the four conditions? As reported, they are:
- “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.”
Those are not inconsequential regulatory actions and before they are completed, these signify that the FAA has concerns about the competence of all of those airlines and organizations. The lack of adequate staffing certainly strongly suggests that the past safety inspections have not been adequate; the DGCA Directorate listing shows about 50 individuals with the title Senior Flight Operation Inspectors or Flight Operation Inspectors. The requirement that the FOI roster should be increased by 125% is not a vote of confidence.
The 2014 downgrade mentioned a deficiency of 75 inspectors, noted that the Cabinet approved their hiring and commended the Government of India for its prompt response. The 2015 upgrade found the DGCA in compliance even though it repeatedly criticized the shortage of 72 inspectors. Now, the carriers, subject to the India DGCA surveillance, would be authorized to add flights WHILE the regulator recertified all scheduled airlines, non-scheduled airlines and flight training organizations.
For countries not meriting a Presidential visit, any one of these “conditions” would justify an IASA downgrade to Category II; pray tell how was the Category I granted?
In the interim, there has been no announcement that any of these requirements were met or not met.
Now, what is the issue?
It is useful to note that
(1) a Delhi Court has initiated a review of the DGCA and
(2) ICAO has recently performed its USOAP audit and lowered its rating below Pakistan’s, Myanmar and Fiji
The FAA performed its review between July 16 and July 20 in areas covering aircraft operations, airworthiness and personnel licensing. There was no public release of the FAA’s findings (nor should there be) so the best source is the second hand, unofficial reports from the Indian news media are summarized below:
- Observations were made as to the IDGCA’s regulatory and guidance materials
- The audit covered aircraft operations, airworthiness and personnel licensing
- The use of inspectors (the staffing levels were not part of the information disclosed to the press) to license, certificate and approve their responsibilities
- One source, whose information appears to have come from the ICAO team, indicated that certification was a major concern as to air traffic controllers and pilots. The point was that the controllers are certified by the Air Navigation services and Air India pilots by the company.
- There was a comment that there was resistance to the DGCA’s greater independence from multiple internal and external interests.
This time, the FAA did not grant an upgrade while the DGCA fulfills its promises. At the end of their visit, the FAA team (a) will provide a written report within next 30 days and (b) thereafter, an FAA team will come for final consultation within 65 days for a DGCA presentation on the points raised and remedies proposed/initiated/completed.
An ICAO team is expected to return in the Fall to review progress.
For one government to review the performance of another country is not common practice in international relations for obvious reasons. The track record between the FAA and the IDGCA suggests that there have been some mixed messages. The recipients of the criticism may not have understood the problem as clearly as possible due to the noise of the Chiefs of State celebrating. Hopefully the IDGCA will clearly roger this transmission.
2At least three articles in the Indian press: ‘FAA observations about DGCA’s regulatory, guidance materials will be addressed’ ; How India slipped below Pakistan and North Korea in air-safety audit
 India achieved a Category 1 rating, signifying compliance with ICAO standards, in August 1997. A December 2012 ICAO audit identified deficiencies in the ICAO-set global standards for oversight of aviation safety by India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). Subsequently, the FAA began a reassessment of India’s compliance with ICAO standards under the FAA’s IASA program, which monitors adherence to international safety standards and practices.
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