Monday, December 29, 2014

SpiceJet issue, safety downgrade marred civil aviation sector


SpiceJet’s near-shutdown and the downgrade of India’s safety ranking marred the civil aviation sector in 2014 which also saw a new airline taking to the sky and another one readying itself to do so early next year.
National carrier Air India became part of the 27-member global airlines grouping Star Alliance, as budget airline AirAsia India launched operations and Tata-SIA joint venture carrier Vistara received the flying permit and announced its intentions to start operations from January 9.
Jet Airways also completed 24 per cent stake sale to Abu Dhabi carrier Etihad for Rs 2,058 crore.
A change of government saw incumbents Ashok Gajapathi Raju and Mahesh Sharma in the cockpit of the Civil Aviation Ministry, which came out with a long-awaited draft policy for the entire sector emphasising on air connectivity to remote places. It is currently under discussion among stakeholders.
After suffering a full closure for almost a day, SpiceJet averted a shutdown as it attracted new investment from one of its founders, Ajay Singh, who along with US-based JP Morgan Chase are expected to pump in $200 million to pick up stake from current promoter Kalanithi Maran and his Sun Group.
While there was no major mishap during the year, a SpiceJet flight, carrying 140 passengers, had a close shave when a buffalo came on the runway at Surat airport and hit it, forcing the pilot to abort take-off. This led aviation regulator DGCA to take preventive measures at 18 identified airports to prevent such recurrence.
The year began on a negative note as US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) downgraded India’s aviation safety ranking from top category-I to category-II, bringing it below Pakistan and on par with countries like Ghana, Barbados and Bangladesh on January 31.
The ranking is likely to remain grounded till March next year as the FAA carried out its audit this month and found that several deficiencies are yet to be rectified.
The change in political leadership brought much hope for the aviation sector, which was for long seeking attention of decision-makers to address issues like infrastructure, high taxes and costs.
No decision was taken to curtail taxes on jet fuel which comprises 40-45 per cent of an airline’s operational costs, while the industry’s long-pending demand for abolition of the rule that allows a domestic carrier to fly abroad only after five years of domestic operations and a 20-aircraft fleet, also remained unfulfilled.
This was in spite of both previous and the present dispensations favouring doing away with the norm on several occasions.
For the airline sector, the year was a mixed bag with Malaysian no-frills carrier AirAsia’s Indian subsidiary AirAsia India taking off with its first flight on June 12, making it the fourth Indian budget carrier after IndiGo, SpiceJet and GoAir.
Naresh Goyal-promoted Jet Airways completed transaction of 24 per cent stake sale for Rs 2,058 crore and offloading of 51 per cent holding for USD 150 million respectively to the Gulf carrier Etihad.
Faced with a series of losses, Jet switched over to single-brand business model, phasing out its low-cost subsidiary JetLite from early December. The airline also saw the exit of two top officials besides several other senior executives in quick successions during the year before finally getting former Air Seychelles chief executive Cramer Ball at the helm.
Tata-Singapore Airlines’ joint venture full service carrier Vistara announced launching of its flight services from January 9 soon after it received Air Operator Permit from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, which was earlier held up due to some regulatory issues.
During the year, Rahul Bhatia-promoted IndiGo maintained its numero uno position in terms of market share and placed order for 25O Airbus A-320 Neo planes for USD 25.5 billion. It also completed its 2005 order of 100 A320s with the Airbus, taking the 100th aircraft delivery in November.
Besides, the carrier also revived plan to raise USD 400 million from the capital market.
Cash crunch-hit SpiceJet, which triggered the first low-fare war of the year as early as January 21, announcing almost 50 per cent reduction in ticket prices, unleashed a series of such heavily-discounted offers throughout the year to mop up cash for running the airline.
This forced other carriers to slash fares and, due to this, air fares remain on the lower-side for most part of the year.
SpiceJet averted a closure for want of cash early December with the aviation ministry intervening and requesting the oil companies and AAI to extend to it a 15-day credit facility for jet fuel supply and landing and parking payments.
Only after this the airline resumed its operations, after remaining grounded for over 10 hours on December 17.
Another budget carrier GoAir seemed steady but the airline not only deferred the delivery of its 20th aircraft, but also its international operations to next fiscal.
During the year, Mumbai joined the league of cities with the state-of-the-art airports with the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh inaugurating Terminal 2, constructed at a whopping cost of Rs 7,452-crore, at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport on January 10.
But the much-talked about handing over operations and management of six airports — Kolkata, Chennai, Jaipur, Guwahati, Lucknow and Ahmedabad — to private companies did not materialise due to Lok Sabha elections and the subsequent change in government at the Centre.
The BJP-led government now has plans to hand over management and operations of both Chennai and Kolkata airports to private parties.
The year 2014 also witnessed a number of other incidents involving almost all domestic carriers.
Prominent among them were two fire incidents in an aircraft of IndiGo, one at Kathmandu airport and another at Delhi airport.
A Jet Airways plane carrying 300 people plunged 5,000 feet while pilot allegedly took a nap and co-pilot was playing on a tab with DGCA threatening to suspend the licence of some 140 pilots for various alleged violations, hitting the headlines during the year.

Friday, December 26, 2014

SpiceJet submits revival plan to government


Troubled budget carrier SpiceJet today submitted a revival plan to the government on the basis of a proposed investment of $200 million from founding promoter Ajay Singh and US-based JP Morgan Chase.
“It was a constructive meeting,” the airline’s Chief Operating Officer Sanjiv Kapoor told reporters after he submitted the plan to Civil Aviation Secretary V Somasundaran at the Ministry headquarters here.
He was accompanied by Mr. Singh, the original promoter who is reinvesting in the carrier.
Maintaining that there was “no outstanding” as of now with any oil marketing company, he said with 18 operational Boeing aircraft, Spicejet was currently flying 230 flights a day.
“Spicejet has many well wishers including Ajay Singh,” the COO said.
Besides Mr, Singh, a fund managed by JP Morgan Chase would also be one of the investors. The potential investors are likely to buy stake from current promoter Kalanithi Maran by infusing USD 200 million within a month to help the airline stay afloat.
The airline has already received Rs 17 crore from the investors, official sources earlier said, adding that “it has wiped off all its dues to the oil companies“.
The no-frill carrier’s dues to foreign and Indian vendors, airport operators and oil companies had grown from Rs 990 crore to Rs 1,230 crore between November 24 and December 10, according to data provided by the airline to the Civil Aviation Ministry.
The airline’s dues to foreign vendors, including lessors of aircraft and maintenance, repairs and overhaul (MRO) facilities, had risen from Rs 624 crore on November 24 to Rs 742 crore on December 10, according to the data. Spicejet owes banks Rs 300 crore against collateral.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Govt. considering cap on maximum economy air fare

THE HINDU, December 24, 2014

Government is considering capping economy air fares at Rs. 20,000 to check airlines from charging “exorbitant” fares or unleashing predatory pricing, affecting their own financial health.
The proposal comes in the backdrop of SpiceJet episode, which had come out with a series of low-fare offers throughout the year to beat competition and then facing cash crunch.
“Steps may be taken to fix minimum and maximum air fares.... There is a need to fix a cap on the maximum air fare of economy class at a reasonable price of around Rs. 20,000 beyond which the airline should not be allowed to charge, exploiting the passengers’ urgency for travel due to various reasons,” the Civil Aviation Ministry said in internal note.
The government is of the view that some of the companies are in danger of facing huge losses due to these huge discounts in fares with some of the fares not even covering the operating costs, it said, adding,” if the situation is not contained, some of the airlines in the country may face closure in near future.”
According to the note, the airlines can be asked to submit their break-even price per kilometer, which will depend on the service offered and the type of aircraft among other factors.
“An appropriate profit can be added to the break-even price per km and that can be minimum price per km to be charged by the concerned airline,” the note said.
The steps will ensure that no airline will go into losses, it said adding the carriers should be asked to fix their air fares in such a way that Earnings Before Interest, Depreciation and Tax (EBIDTA) should be positive.”
The note also said that the airline companies were charging very high spot fares and that there were large number of complaints received from Jammu and Kashmir and North East region, Andaman and Nicobar and several other places in the country.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Vistara gets licence to fly

THE HINDU, 15 DEC 2014

Paving the way for Vistara to begin commercial operations, the airline on Monday received its air operator permit (AOP) from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

“The AOP is a significant milestone as it is the final step in a highly technical and complex compliance process,” the company said in a statement.
Vistara is a 51:49 joint venture between Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines Ltd. The company, which will be headquartered here, will begin operations with its fleet of brand new Airbus A 320-200s. It will soon make an announcement on the start of sales, routes and schedules.
Vistara CEO Phee Teik Yeoh said, “I am delighted that we have successfully cleared the final requirement and secured the AOP. We are thankful to the Ministry of Civil Aviation for their support and guidance during the entire process. All our energies now are going to be concentrated towards fulfilling the Vistara brand promise.”

Monday, December 1, 2014

Dubai to invest $32-billion to build world’s largest airport

To further secure its position as the world’s aviation hub, Dubai Airports is building a whopping USD 32—billion greenfield airport at the upcoming Dubai World Central, 30 km off the present international airport which already is the second busiest in the world.
The proposed new airport will become the world’s largest aviation facility on completion and will have five runways which all will be simultaneously operational, all A380-compatible with a length of 4.5 km each.
“We are planning a USD 32—billion brand new airport at the Dubai World Central at Al Maktoum, 30 km off the present Dubai facility. In the first phase, the new airport will be able to handle 120 million passengers, which will go up to 200 million by 2020, when the project is completed,” Dubai Airports Corporate Communications Head Julius Baumann told PTI.
“On completion, the new airport will be the world’s largest airport, with each concourse the size of seven football fields and have five runways which all will be simultaneously operational, all A380-compatible,” Mr. Baumann said.
The other features include 200 aircraft stands for wide bodied aircraft, four concourses connected via six airport trains to two terminals, which in turn will be linked to the city’s metro network. When complete, the mega-hub will have total annual capacity exceeding 200 million passengers and 12 million tonne of freight.
The existing Al Maktoum International opened its doors to passengers on October 27, 2013 and three airlines are operating from here. It has one A380 capable runway, 64 remote stands, one cargo terminal with annual capacity for 250,000 tonne and a fully operational passenger terminal building designed to accommodate 5 million passengers annually.
The Dubai International Airport is the world’s second busiest airport after the London Heathrow and is on course to become the global aviation hub, thanks to its geographical location and the availability of cheap fuel.
The first phase of the new airport includes a single A380 compatible runway, a passenger terminal with capacity of 5 million passengers which is expandable to 7 million; a cargo terminal with a capacity of 250,000 tonne per annum and expandable to 600,000 tonne and a 92-metre air traffic control tower.
The state-owned Dubai Airports already operates the Dubai International Airport in the heart of the Arabian megapolis and the Al Maktoum International Airport at the upcoming Dubai World Central (DWC).
The DWC is a 140 sq km new international city being built to de-congest the present city, Dubai Airports’ Marketing & Corporate Communications Manager Zaigham Ali said, adding the work on new airport will begin early next year.
Apart from the new airport plan, the Emirate is also expanding the Dubai International Airport with a USD 7.8 billion investment to take the capacity to 100 million by 2020. This project was started in 2011 and will be completed by 2016.
The expansion of the Dubai International include a new concourse (Concourse D), expansion of Terminal 2 to twice its current capacity, refurbishment of Terminal 1, and additional aircraft stands, taxiways and aprons among others.
Dubai International, Mr. Baumann said handled 66.43 million passengers in 2013, and has being growing 15.5 per cent per annum since its launch in 1960. In 2013, it was named the second busiest airport in the world after the London Heathrow.
Mr. Ali said India is the largest source market for the airport, with an airline network that connects Dubai with 18 cities in the country.
In 2013, the airport saw a 14.3 percent increase in passenger numbers from India at 8.5 million and in the first 9 months of this year, the number has already crossed 7 million.
Mr. Ali added the company is confident of crossing the last year’s mark this year.
Explaining the rationale for a gigantic new airport, Mr. Baumann said the airport’s forecast figures for unconstrained passenger traffic show 126 million passengers by 2020, and 300 million passengers by 2050.
Additionally, the Terminal 2 will double in capacity by 2015. Concourse D of the airport, slated to open by mid 2015, will provide for 100 more aircraft and taking the figure up to 80 million passengers.
In all, the expansion projects will take the airport’s passenger capacity to a little over 100 million passengers, Mr. Ali said.
With a built-up area of 1,972,474 sqm, the Dubai International Airport comprises three terminals and ranks among the world’s top two busiest airports for international passengers, serving over 125 airlines flying to over 260 destinations, as per the Airports Council International.
On the economic impact of the aviation sector in Baumann, quoting an Oxford Economics report said, aviation will contribute USD 53.1 billion to Dubai’s economy, which is 37.5 per cent to its GDP and will support over 750,000 jobs by the turn of 2020.
The aviation sector as a whole contributed USD 26.7 billion to the Dubai economy in 2013, which was almost 27 per cent of the national GDP and supported 416,500 jobs accounting for 21 per cent of the Emirates’ total employment.
Passenger traffic in September totalled 5,942,628 compared to 5,407,326 recorded in the same month last year, an increase of 9.9 per cent. January—September rose 6.2 per cent to 52,422,547, up from 49,379,165, while in 2013, the passenger traffic stood 66,431,533, up 15.2 per cent from 2012.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Government unveils draft aviation policy; may privatise Air India, Pawan Hans

The Economic Times

Published : Nov 10, 2014

The government on Monday announced a draft set of reforms for the aviation sector that includes plans to list airport operator Airports Authority of India (AAI) and helicopter service provider Pawan Hans Ltd, arguing that listing will not only improve efficiency but also instill transparency in their operations.

Making the announcement, civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju said views of the public will be sought on the draft before the government adopts the policy. "Listing improves transparency and efficiency," the minister said. "AAI will be corporatised and the listing on the stock exchanges would follow. Listing of Pawan Hans would also be undertaken with the same objective. Pawan Han's listing straightaway might make sense. For AAI also, that is possible."
Aviation secretary V Somasundaran said the ministry expects the process to conclude in six months. "After the policy is finalised, we need to get into discussions with the disinvestment ministry on various issues," Somasundaran said. "We hope to complete the process in six months.
The exercise will help bring transparency and greater professionalism in the boards of the two entities."
Analysts have welcomed the move to list the two entities. "It's a good move, as it will bring market discipline into these companies. It will not just unlock the potential of these two companies but also make them much more professional than today by providing more autonomy and professional management.
These companies should become much more professional to compete," said Dhiraj Mathur, leader-aerospace and defence at PwC India. On the suggestion to privatise national carrier Air India, Raju said it will be decided in due course of time. "If it could get listed, I would be the happiest person," the minister said. "An experts committee would be set up soon to develop a roadmap for Air India. All these suggestions have emerged.
We will have to take a conscious decision as it is a delicate matter," he said. The draft also talks of privatising only Jaipur and Ahmedabad airports and awarding management contracts for Kolkata and Chennai airports. One of the key initiatives of the draft policy is to develop helicopter aviation in the country. This is the first time that the country's aviation policy has categorised helicopter aviation separately from general aviation. The focus of the policy is to develop infrastructure to support helicopter operations.
The Business Aircraft Operators Association, a grouping of all business jet and helicopter operators, has termed this a step in the right direction. "We welcome the move to develop helicopter aviation, which will promote its greater use by industries to enable business. While we see a major thrust on remote connectivity in the draft, the role of small aircraft operators needs to be given due consideration," the association said in an email reply.

International airport in Bengaluru rated 'e-freight compliant' by IATA

Economic Times

Published : Nov 10, 2014

Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL) today said the Kempegowda International Airport here has been rated as an 'e-freight compliant' airport by the International Air Transport Association for its cargo operations. 

This project reiterates the airport's efforts in sustaining the long-term wellbeing of the environment, the company said in a release. 

The e-freight concept was launched by IATA in 2006 as part of the StB (simplifying the business) programme and became an industry-wide initiative, it added. 

BIAL said facilitated by IATA along with the endorsement of the members of the Global Air Cargo Advisory Group (GACAG), the project is an industry-wide initiative. 

It involves carriers, freight forwarders, ground handlers, shippers and customs authorities to effectively streamline processes, cut costs and improve speed and reliability, it stated. 

It said few key benefits of the implementation of the e-freight project are: improved process efficiency, higher productivity, better quality & reliability, improved cost savings and environment-friendly. 

By implementing e-freight international standards, Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru will benefit the industry by eliminating the use of paper in the air cargo supply chain, it said. 

Kempegowda International Airport, Bengaluru, is the first Airport in India to be declared as IATA e-freight compliant with the operationalisation & implementation of the e-freight process, it added. 

Friday, November 7, 2014

One of three runways of IGI airport could be shut

The Times of India

Published : Nov 07, 2014

One of the three runways of IGI Airport could be shut for commercial flights, a move that would spell a return to the pre-2008 days of air congestion when airplanes had to hover for long periods before being cleared to land.

Fearing a 9/11-type attack on prime central Delhi locations such as Parliament and President House, the defence and security establishment has sought the closure of IGIA's runway 27 for commercial aircraft.

The approach path of this runway, for aircraft coming to land from AIIMS side, is the closest to central Delhi. Therefore, the defence establishment wants only military and VVIP planes taking off and landing on this strip, said highly placed sources.

"This issue is now at the Cabinet Secretariat's level. A meeting is supposed to be held soon," said a source. In technical parlance, the security establishment wants to enhance the no-fly zone of central Delhi that is called VIP 89.

The enhanced no-fly zone will include areas very close to the final approach of runway 27.Even a slight deviation by an aircraft coming in to land on this strip from AIIMS side or taking off in that direction (when wind direction changes) zone could lead to scrambling of fighter jets.

Runaway 27 is one of the three airstrips in operation at IGIA — the other two being runway 28 and 29.

Civil aviation authorities are opposing the move tooth and nail, saying it would slam the brakes on IGIA's dream of becoming a big aviation hub. The airport's three runways have a combined capacity of handling 75 aircraft movements an hour. At present, IGIA witnesses an average of 950 flights a day.

"Most of the times, runway 27 (the shortest of the three runways) is used for arrivals. Runway 28 is used for departures as it is equidistant from both terminal 1B used by low cost carriers for domestic operations and terminal 3. Runway 29 is used for both arrivals and departures. Shutting down runway 27 will straightaway mean a one-third reduction in aircraft handling capacity," said a source.

The flyers, the shutdown would mean a return of the massive congestion at the airport with planes hovering in the air for a long time before landing and a similar wait on ground for aircraft to take off. Airlines used to levy a separate congestion charge in their fares on account of burning expensive jet fuel during hovering at busy airports like Delhi and Mumbai. The situation improved in 2008 when IGI got a third runway (29).

"Given the fact that Tata-AirAsia will soon come to Delhi and Tata-Singapore Airlines will use IGIA as their hub — apart from existing airlines (both Indian and foreign) adding flights to Delhi — there is no way the capital can do with just two runways. In fact, the air traffic services are finding ways to increase the combined aircraft handling capacity of 75 to cope with the increasing traffic," said a source.

Runway 27 becomes more crucial in the foggy winter months as IGIA's newest airstrip (29) suffers from very poor visibility due to its location. In those months, runway 28 and 27 handle a lion's share of air traffic. If one of them is made out of bounds for commercial aircraft, aviation authorities warn of serious chaos in Delhi for the average flyer.

SpiceJet suspends flights to Surat indefinitely after run-in with buffalo

Published : Nov 07, 2014
SpiceJet, the home-grown budget passenger carrier, on Friday said that it has suspended its services to Surat indefinitely, after one of its aircraft had a run-in with a stray animal at the city's airport on Thursday.
In a shocking security lapse, over 140 passengers of a Delhi-bound SpiceJet flight, SG 662, from Surat had a miraculous escape on Thursday when a stray buffalo ran onto the runway as the aircraft was about to take-off at around 7:25 pm.
There was utter confusion between the airport authorities and the SpiceJet pilot as to which stray animal was hit. However, sources at the Airport said that it was a stray buffalo and that the impact was very heavy. The aircraft sustained a considerable damage in its body. The pilot immediately stopped the craft midway and drove it in the parking area to check the damage.
"A Surat-to-Delhi SpiceJet aircraft, SG-622, carrying around 140 passengers excluding crew members on Thursday hit a buffalo during take-off roll at Surat airport," the airline's spokesperson Siddharth Kumar said.
"All passengers and crew members are safe and will be provided an alternative arrangement soon," Kumar said. Considering the stray-animal menace, SpiceJet has decided to suspend its services on Surat airport for an indefinite period. "Suspension will be effective as soon as possible," Kumar said.
Official sources said the Delhi-Surat-Delhi flight of SpiceJet arrived at about 6:30 pm on Thursday. The passengers from Delhi to Surat alighted at the airport and the passengers bound to Delhi boarded the flight. It took about an hour for the flight to get on the runway for takeoff to Delhi.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

MEHAIR to begin intra-state flights: Gujarat aviation minister Saurabh Patel

Economic Times

Published : Nov 05, 2014

For better intra-state air connectivity, the Gujarat government has selected a private airline to operate flights between different cities of the state, state civil aviation minister Saurabh Patel said today. 

According to a press release, Patel said that Maritime Energy Heli Air Services (MEHAIR) has been awarded a contract to operate services between various cities in Gujarat. 

Initially, the company would start flights to cities like Ahmedabad, Surat, Jamnagar, Bhavnagar, Bhuj, Kandla, Keshod, Porbandar and Rajkot, Patel said. 

"Within two months, the service will be operational in the state. State owned Gujarat State Aviation Infrastructure Company floated a tender earlier and selected MEHAIR to operate the service in Gujarat. It will help buisnessmen and other citizens reach their destinations quickly," Patel said. 

For the regional airline service, the company would deploy two aircrafts with a seat capacities ranging from nine to 19 passengers each, the release said. 

In the coming days, a timetable of flights would be released by the company.

MEHAIR has selected Ahmedabad and Surat to park its aircraft, Patel said.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Domestic air traffic rises over 26.3 per cent in Sept

Published : Nov 04, 2014
India's domestic air traffic grew at a record pace of over 26 per cent in September compared to the same month last year with low air fares stimulating the travel demand, IATA said on Tuesday.
Indian traffic "spiked 26.3 per cent in September compared to a year ago", showed the latest data released by International Air Transport Association (IATA).
It attributed this growth, which was several times that of 7.6 per cent recorded in August, to market stimulation measures by the Indian carriers which continued to offer low fares on the domestic sectors.
"Whereas previous improvements in growth rates potentially were attributable to revived confidence over the new business- supportive government, the strong increase in September was owing to market stimulation measures introduced by carriers," IATA said as it released the September air traffic figures.
On international air travel, the IATA figures showed Asia Pacific airlines reported a demand growth of 4.8 per cent compared to a year ago.
"Although this is a weaker rise than August, the recent trend has been positive and reflects better demand conditions in the region, including stronger trade activity that encourages business travel," it said.
The overall global passenger traffic results for September showed demand growth of 5.3 per cent over September last year.
"This continues the positive growth trend for passenger demand even though the performance was slightly below the August year-over-year rise of 6.3 per cent," the IATA study said.
However, IATA Director General and CEO Tony Tyler said though the fall in oil prices was "good news for an industry that spends a third of its operating budget on fuel", its full impact would "only be realized over time because of a time lag built into jet fuel pricing".

Monday, November 3, 2014

US FAA team to visit India to audit aviation safety mechanism

The Economic Times
Published : 02 Nov, 2014
A US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) team would arrive here next month to carry out a fresh audit of India'saviation safety mechanism, which was downgraded almost a year ago, rekindling hopes of its restoration to the topmost category status. 

Official sources said that FAA has decided to start a fresh audit of safety standards from December 8 and will review the work done by its Indian counterpart, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), to resolve the problems. The audit is likely to go on for about a week. 

The American regulator had downgraded India from Category I to Category II under its International Aviation Safety Assessment programme, after its audits in India revealed deficiencies on over 30 crucial issues relating to various aspects of safety standards, including shortage of officials to carry out engineering and flight checks. 

After the January 31 downgrade, DGCA had sought a fresh audit of its safety oversight mechanism in July after taking a number of steps to meet the deficiencies. 

It has put in place a series of new rules and procedures and recruited skilled manpower to carry out aviation safety surveillance. 

Following this, DGCA chief Prabhat Kumar visited the US and briefed FAA on the progress made for resolving the problems identified. 

As a fallout of the FAA downgrade, the European Union Air Safety Committee (EUASC) had also expressed some concerns although it did not take any punitive action. 

To update them about the developments since the January FAA action and the steps taken, a four-member DGCA team led by Joint Director General J S Rawat would visit Brussels next week to hold discussions. 

Operations by Indian air carriers to and from Europe are monitored by EUASC through their Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft programme. 

Among the steps DGCA has taken are the recruitment of 56 new Flight Operations Inspectors out of a total of 75 that are required, with most of them joining their duties this month itself. The remaining ones, too, would be inducted this month, the sources said. 

The downgrade not only barred Air India and Jet Airways - the only two Indian airlines that operate to the US - from expanding their operations in that country and their codeshare arrangements with US airlines, but also subjected their planes to additional checks at US airports. 

FAA's Category-II rating put India in a group of 16 such countries, including Bangladesh, Ghana, Indonesia, the Philippines and Nicaragua. 

The sword of downgrade had been hanging over DGCA since 2009, when FAA had expressed serious concern over gross under- staffing. Immediately thereafter, several remedial measures were implemented and the Union Cabinet had decided to recruit over 500 additional staff for the regulator.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

India’s aviation downgrade by US FAA set to be revoked soon

Published : Nov 01,2014

In what could be seen as the first positive impact of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United States on the Indian aviation sector, India’s embarrassing downgrade by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) earlier this year could be revoked, with the FAA team slated to carry out another inspection on December 8 this year.

This also comes in the backdrop of a three-member team visiting Brussels in the first week of November for a meeting with officials of the EU Air Safety Committee to discuss measures taken by the Indian aviation regulator, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), to improve its performance after the FAA downgrade.

Finding regulatory oversight to be inadequate, the FAA had downgraded India from Category 1 to Category 2 under its International Aviation Safety Assessment (IASA) programme on January 31 earlier this year. The move has barred Air India and Jet Airways — the only two Indian airlines that operate to the US — from expanding their operations in the US and impacted codeshare arrangements with their American counterparts.
The DGCA needed to recruit 20 officials – chief flight operations inspectors (CFOI) — to deal with the staff shortage pertaining to Air India and Jet Airways. To improve it’s overall safety record, however, it needed to recruit 75 CFOIs.

“We have already recruited 56 new inspectors, of which 39 have already joined work, and the rest will join by next week. Applications are under process for rest of the 16 positions; and all 75 positions would be filled by November 16,” a senior DGCA official told The Indian Express.
While operations by Indian air carriers to and from EU are closely monitored through their Safety Assessment of Foreign Aircraft programme (SAFA), the FAA’s downgrade essentially meant that the DGCA was below par in meeting standards in technical expertise, trained manpower and maintenance records of air safety. It did not have skilled technical staff in the organisation.

“The FAA downgrade has a cascading effect, and the EU had raised concerns over the downgrade and the measures taken by the DGCA to better its performance. A DGCA team headed by Joint Director General Lalit Gupta will visit Brussels in the first week of November for a meeting with officials of the EU Air Safety Committee to discuss the measures taken,” an official said.

A Category 2 rating by the FAA has made India one of the 16 countries out of a total of 88 that have been assessed under IASA; the 16 include Bangladesh, Ghana, Indonesia, the Philippines and Nicaragua.

Monday, October 27, 2014

350 commercial pilots flying skies with invalid licences

Published : 27 Oct, 2014

Indian airlines currently have almost 350 commercial pilots flying the skies with lapsed or invalid licences due to their failure to appear in exams that have to be given after every few months to remain eligible to operate in the cockpit. 

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is now contemplating action against the heads of training department of these airlines, while asking the carriers to complete the required training of pilots in a time-bound manner. 

"All Indian carriers — Jet, Air India, SpiceJet, GoAir and IndiGo (in this order)—have some pilots who have not completed all checks required to keep their flying licences valid. While Jet and AI have 131 and over 100 such pilots, respectively, the three low cost have almost 100 cases. Now, we have written to AirAsia India and Air Costa to tell us if they too have any such pilots," said a senior official, adding that in all there would be over 350 pilots with invalid licences. 

DGCA chief Prabhat Kumar is learnt to be contemplating action against the training heads of airlines, just like he had ordered removal of Jet's training chief last month after 131 pilots of that airline were found to be flying even after expiry of validity of their last pilot proficiency check (PPC). This test is required to be given every six months and Pilots are not supposed to fly without a valid PPC. The action will be decided when the data from all airlines comes in. 
"It is not possible to ground so many pilots in one go, else flights will be grounded in the ongoing peak travel season and travellers will be left stranded. We may take action against the heads of training of these airlines," said a senior official. 

On its part, AI said that the issue arose after the DGCA last September made it mandatory for pilots to give the PPC every six months. This check was earlier also required to be given bi-annually but the first one in first eight months of the year and the second in last four. "This new six-monthly check would have required us to renew nearly 800 licences overnight, which was not possible. All licences valid before this CAR has been renewed uptil October 2014 as per the old rule by DGCA," the AI statement said.

AI added that all the licences have been renewed till date. "At present, therefore, there are no pilots flying without a valid licence," the airline statement said. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

New Indian Proposal Threatens Charter Operators

Published : Oct 23, 2014
Indian lawmakers are considering a proposal by the country’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) that would revoke the commercial licenses of nonscheduled operator permit (NSOP) holders with fewer than three aircraft available for charter. Affected NSOPs that do not augment their fleet to at least three aircraft within one year will have to operate in the private category, depriving them of permission to offer charters. India’s Business Aircraft Operators Association (BAOA) sees the proposal as “a kneejerk reaction” to the DGCA’s shortage of flight observation inspectors (FOIs) and its difficulties in recruiting more of them. The process of registering private aircraft owners as NSOPs requires the services of an FOI. This scarcity of FOIs is also hindering India’s compliance with an FAA requirement that would help restore the country’s safety ranking to Category 1.
According to the DGCA, most NSOPs are running limited charter operations and in reality fall under the general aviation (privately owned) category. Aircraft importation duty costs private companies 20 percent, while NSOPs pay only 3 percent. “This imbalance is creating problems. Private owners register under NSOPs that in turn require FOIs, which are not easily available. We are asking for rationalization in the tax structure that will charge both categories the same duty,” BAOA president Rohit Kapur told AIN.
The issue could be overcome, said Kapur, if aircraft management companies are permitted to function in India. Of the 120 NSOP holders operating in India, 93 own a combined 147 aircraft and just 27 own more than three aircraft each.