As the International Civil Aviation Organization prepares to start its latest audit of India under its Universal Safety Oversight Audit Program on November 6, the country’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is working hard to resolve copious anomalies in its systems and processes. The 10-day proactive audit includes analysis of flight safety, training and licensing and flight- and duty-time limitations of the DGCA, airports, and airlines.
The DGCA has completed the first step, which includes submission of protocol questions (PQ) to ICAO for compliance timelines. ICAO will also check Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) to ensure India exercises good practices. The DGCA meanwhile, has revised all CARs to incorporate the latest ICAO amendments.
In 2012 ICAO ranked India as the world’s 13th worst performer in safety; two years later the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration downgraded the country to Category 2 from Category 1, effectively halting its airlines from adding flights to the U.S. or entering into any new code-share agreements for a year.
Ensuring certification of non-scheduled airlines, particularly those flying internationally, continues to present a problem as have inadequacies associated with firefighting equipment, air traffic management and lighting at airports.
During a December 2015 audit, ICAO asked what steps the Airports Authority of India (AAI) had taken to ensure an adequate number of air traffic services (ATS) personnel. “In response, the risk assessment and the immediate mitigations measures already put in place by AAI to ensure an adequate number of ATS personnel was communicated to ICAO, which accepted the measures adopted,” Jayant Sinha, minister of state for civil aviation, said in Parliament last year.
However, as Indian skies get more crowded, safety oversights have become common. The DGCA recorded more than 420 air safety violations last year, compared with 275 in 2015. According to the Directorate, airlines had to suspend 272 pilots and issue warnings to 108.
“The problem is in the system,” said aviation advisor Captain G.S. Rathee. India’s civil aviation policy of 2016 makes no mention of an independent civil aviation authority (CAA) cleared in 2013 to replace the DGCA as the safety regulator. Plans called for its functions to include safety oversight, environmental regulation, licensing, international coordination and advising the government on industry development. The status of the new CAA remains unclear, however. “There is no transparency in the DGCA,” said Rathee. “The formation of CAA should be given priority if we want to rid ourselves of these issues. We need fresh manpower with technical expertise.”