The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is preparing to hire experts after it was named the nodal agency for providing licences to Air Traffic Controllers (ATCOs) by the aviation ministry to improve a crucial global aviation ranking.
ATCOs were hitherto regulated by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) but the ministry decided to bring them under the ambit of the aviation regulator after the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) gave India a poor ranking, said senior officials.
The exercise of licensing ATCOs will require additional manpower at the DGCA, which faces a severe staff crunch.
"We will be hiring experts to ensure smooth operations," said DGCA head BS Bhullar.
ICAO, the United Nations’ aviation agency, gave a ranking of 57.4 percent to India because AAI rather than the DGCA gives licences to ATCOs, contending that this practice leads to conflict of interest.
ICAO ignored India’s protestations that AAI has a robust oversight system to comply with its norms.
Aviation secretary RN Choubey said necessary amendments will be made to the existing regulations to empower DGCA to grant licences.
“DGCA will oversee and approve the existing mechanism followed by the Airports Authority of India for licensing ATCOs,” he said.
ICAO is one of the two global aviation bodies — the other is the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) of the US — that perform crucial safety audits on various countries’ oversight of their airlines and aviation infrastructure.
An adverse audit could potentially downgrade a country’s air safety rating and affect operation of overseas flights.
Choubey said ICAO has accepted India’s regime of AAI providing certificates to ATCOs for the past 70 years.
But for the first time ICAO raised the issue of separation of powers between service providers and regulators during the last audit in April 2018, he said.
When asked if India is in a negative spot, ICAO told CNBC-TV18 that the safety oversight audit reports are governed by a multilateral MoU that applies to all ICAO member states, including India.
"This agreement restricts the amount and type of data we can release publicly," said the ICAO spokesperson.
Jayant Sinha, minister of state for civil aviation, said air travel is the safest mode of travel, adding that incidents like near misses between planes and hits averted on ground have declined in 2017.
“We need to look at the statistical levels in terms of total movements in air. India is the largest growing and safest aviation market,” he said.
Before the April audit, India last faced a similar ICAO exercise on November 2017.
It was assessed on five parameters — personal licensing, airworthiness, operations, legislation and organisation.
Bhullar said he expects the ranking to improve to 80 percent once ICAO's requirements are met.
There will be an ICAO audit in November for validation of airworthiness and accidents bureau's progress that were audited in 2015, he said.
The ratings have fallen due to procedural concerns, according to Choubey.
“ICAO has not found any violation of safety norms. Not a single safety violation has been pointed by ICAO. India is open to conservative aviation growth as security is a priority for India," he said.
Fall in Number of Incidents
According to data obtained from DGCA, only one Category A case — extremely serious — was reported in the past six years (2013).
DGCA categorises incidents on four parameters: Category A which is critical, Category B which is a serious incident, Category C which is not hazardous and Category D is unclassified — where risk level has not been determined.
There were 159 of air proximity incidents between 2012 and 2017.
The year 2014 saw the highest number of air proximity cases at 33 followed by 32 cases in 2016.
The cases have dropped to 28 in 2017, according to DGCA data.
Bhullar said the recent incident of two IndiGo planes averting a collision comes under category C and its Accidents Bureau is investigating the matter.He said DGCA is taking preventive actions to reduce such incidents which include Aircraft technological advancement, regular proficiency tests and corrective training being given to ATCOs and pilots.