Inscrutable India DGCA may need more Scrutiny on Aviation Safety Matters

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International aviation safety audits are most delicate. The basic notion that one sovereign may review the aviation safety organization of another sovereign strains the basic tenet of international law—comity among nations. The US’ review by the FAA under its IASA program of India’s DCCA is a prime example of that diplomatically dangerous exercise.

First, the announcement whether the India aviation safety organization met international standards was unfortunately poorly timed. Second, the actual immediate upgrading of the DGCA of India to Category 1 by Secretary Foxx was unusual in that the immediate accession was conditioned on four as-of-yet unresolved problems. Whatever or whether there were any ancillary considerations to the exercise of this technical safety judgment is unknown, but what has been reported about the Foxx pronouncement is that there were four conditions with which the DGCA must comply in the future:

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

According to recent press reports (see below), two of these conditions have not been improved and it appears that the expectations that the DGCA could attain them may have been sadly misplaced.

The first story examines the problem of pilots exaggerating their time in cockpits as a means of initial certification and internal promotion. Though this is a historic problem for India, here are the comments of the author and the Director of the DGCA about the current situation:

“Concern about the quality of India’s pilots has been building over the past decade as a proliferation of budget airlines created demand for hundreds of new pilots. In 2011, the government reviewed the licenses of all 4,000-plus airline pilots in the country, as police investigated at least 18 people suspected of using forged documents to win promotions or certification. The findings of the review were not made public.”


“Asked about the continued use of fake certificates, India’s Director General of Civil Aviation, M. Sathiyavathy, said on April 24 the directorate would be conducting a new audit that would require the ‘recertification of all the flying schools.’”

Indeed, the DGCA is moving forward on its commitment, but the scope of its task and the consequences, if such an audit finds problems, are immense as this quote from the Bloomberg article suggests:

“Of India’s seven major airlines, Tata SIA Airlines Ltd.’s Vistara said it is aware of over logging, but tests all new pilots and provides its own training. SpiceJet Ltd. said it only hires from prestigious air schools and tests and trains all new pilots. IndiGo, Air India Ltd., Jet Airways India Ltd. and AirAsia India Ltd. didn’t respond to e-mails and phone calls about the issue. Go Airlines India Pvt. Ltd. declined to comment.”

The second article examines the DGCA’s commitment to hire 72 new Flight Operations Inspectors. According to The Economic Times, “Eight more Flight Operations Inspectors have resigned from the DGCA in the past few months, a move that seriously threatens the aviation regulator’s ability to retain the Category I rating given by the US Federal Aviation Authority.” Two FOIs resigned previously, leaving only 42 on the roster, well below the targeted 72.

This deficiency compounds the difficulty of the DGCA’s meeting the other three commitments in a timely fashion, all of which require a full staff of these inspectors to recertify the three types of organizations (scheduled & non-scheduled airlines and the aforementioned training organizations). Without enough FOIs, it will take additional time to assure that the certificate holders of India are up to standards.

While the DGCA struggles to achieve the international safety standards, American and international passengers will board the airlines of India relying on Secretary Foxx’s immediate grant of Category 1 status under IASA.

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