UN’s ICAO to conduct another audit of India’s air safety readiness

The UN’s aviation watchdog International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) has decided to conduct another safety audit of India’s air safety readiness.

The audit, which was pre-planned, assumes significance as it comes in the aftermath of the Air India Express crash in which 20 people were killed, including the pilot and the co-pilot, and several others were injured when the flight from Dubai with 190 people onboard overshot the runway at Calicut airport and fell into a valley

“An ICAO team was supposed to come for an audit in November, but due to the Covid-19 pandemic and border closures, the audit has been postponed to January. ICAO team will check safety aspects of airlines, airports, ground handling firms, regulatory bodies to ascertain that they are upto the international standards,” said an official aware of the development.

ICAO had carried out the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme for India in November 2017, followed by a second audit in February 2018. The audit result showed that the country’s score declined to 57.44 per cent from 65.82 per cent earlier, placing India below Pakistan, Nepal and many other nations.

However, subsequently, the civil aviation ministry and aviation regulator DGCA took steps, following which the score improved to 74.

During its audit, ICAO looks at eight areas. These include primary aviation legislation and civil aviation regulations, civil aviation organisation, personnel licensing and training, aircraft operations and airworthiness of aircraft.

The outcome of the audit score is crucial for Indian airlines as it could impact their international expansion plans.

During its audit in 2012, ICAO had placed India in its list of 13 worst-performing nations. This triggered an audit by US aviation regulator, Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 2014, which downgraded the country’s ranking, citing a lack of adequate regulatory oversight.

Indian airlines were not allowed to add new routes to the US or sign commercial agreements with US airlines during this period. The rating were restored one year later.

“Naturally when there has been an accident where lives were lost, an ICAO audit is significant, but we are well prepared. The accident investigation is also taking its own course and by the time ICAO is here, it will be completed. We are also keeping ICAO updated about the progress in investigation,” the official said.

The primary issue pointed out during the 2017 and 2018 audit by ICAO was to make DGCA licensing authority for ATC officers. Earlier, Airports Authority of India (AAI), which is also ATC service provider, had been licensing ATCOs. ICAO considered it a conflict of interest for the service provider to be its regulator as well. In fact, India was the only big aviation market where the safety regulator did not have authority to license ATC officers

“We changed the system and now DGCA has almost completed licensing all 2,500 ATCO officials,” the official said.

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