Washington, DC – The United States on Friday (January 31) blocked efforts by India based airlines to start new routes to the US without the country improving its aviation standards to the international levels as stipulated by its International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) program but denied any linkage to the Khobragade case.
The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in a notification downgraded the ratings for India to Category 2 under its IASA program on the basis of “a recent assessment of the country’s civil aviation authority.” With the lowering of the status from Category 1 to Category 2, India’s airlines will continue to serve the US, but not establish new routes. Air India, the Indian national carrier, and Jet Airways can not expand its services to new routes in the US and can face new checks under the new Category 2 rating for India.
The downgrade puts India’s civil aviation safety oversight regime in a noncompliance category with the international safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) but the US is ready to work, “with India’s Directorate General for Civil Aviation (DGCA) to identify the remaining steps necessary to regain Category 1 status for India.”
“US and Indian aviation officials have developed an important working relationship as our countries work to meet the challenges of ensuring international aviation safety. The FAA is available to work with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to help India regain its Category 1 rating,” said FAA Administrator Michael Huerta.
Explaining the FAA decision, Marie Harf, the US State Department Deputy Spokesperson made three points, “The first is that both the US and India are fully committed to restoring India to a Category 1 rating as soon as possible. There is currently an FAA team in India, in part to discuss how to go about doing just that.
“The second, that this decision was made within a regulatory framework. When a foreign country’s civil aviation authority has international flights into the US, the FAA is required to periodically evaluate whether that CAA is overseeing the safety of its international civil aviation operations according to the ICAO standards.
Third, the United States and India remain fully committed to cooperation in civil aviation.”
Asked to comment on the fallout on the already tense relations between the two democracies after Devyani Khobragade case, when an Indian diplomat was arrested and strip-searched in New York last December, Harf said, “This absolutely had nothing to do with the ongoing case of Dr. Khobragade.”
Calling it, “a regulatory decision,” Harf said, “This was all made inside a regulatory framework that has very specific criteria countries have to meet under ICAO standards that we’re all party to.” She echoed the sentiments of FAA Chief Huerta saying, “We’re committed to working with India to help them get back to a Category 1 rating.”
India had achieved a Category 1 rating, signifying compliance with ICAO standards, in August 1997 but the FAA in its downgrade decision cited a December 2012 ICAO audit which identified deficiencies in the ICAO-set global standards for oversight of aviation safety by India’s DGCA.
The FAA said that it had consulted extensively with the DCGA and other relevant Indian government ministries during its evaluation, “including consultations in India in September and early December, and meetings this week in Delhi.”
Harf reiterated that the assessment was conducted in New Delhi in September and the assessment team returned to India on December 11 for follow-up discussion. While the consultations were ongoing, Harf said, “(While) India has indeed made significant progress, a determination was made that it was not enough to meet the ICAO standards, hence the step that we saw today.”
On the question if India was given a deadline to comply, Harf told journalists, “I don’t know if there was a specific deadline, but I think that the FAA team and the folks made absolutely clear what the Indians needed to do to maintain their Category 1 rating. They were not able to do so.”
A Category 2 rating means a country either lacks laws or regulations necessary to oversee air carriers in accordance with minimum international standards, or that its civil aviation authority – equivalent to the FAA for aviation safety matters – is deficient in one or more areas, such as technical expertise, trained personnel, record-keeping or inspection procedures.