New Delhi : India's air safety oversight score is lower than that of Myanmar, Bangladesh, Maldives, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and even North Korea in the Asia-Pacific region. The only countries that rank below India are small and little known, such as Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Vanuatu and Samoa.
In the aviation-safety audit conducted late last year by the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), India has slipped below its previous ranking of 66 per cent to 57 per cent. The audit - ICAO Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme - seeks to identify if countries have effectively and consistently implemented the critical elements of a safety-oversight system.
India is one of the 15 countries that are below the minimum target rates.
The low score can have serious repercussions, including a potential downgrade by the US aviation regulator Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which was in the country in July this year to conduct its own audit after the slip in India's score, according to a local media report.
A downgrade would mean Indian airlines won't be able to mount new flights to the US or form alliances with US airlines. Also, Indian carriers such as Air India and Jet Airways, which fly to the US, would face more checks when their planes land there.
The downgrade can stifle Indian carriers' plans of global expansion. India has already been downgraded once, in 2014, ranking alongside Ghana, Indonesia, Uruguay and Zimbabwe. The downgrade was removed after a year.
One reason why India scored so low in the audit is the government's neglect of aviation regulator DGCA, the report says. The major fall in India's score, which was already low, was because of a "drastic reduction" in the effective implementation rate in the area of personnel licencing - from 89 per cent to 26 per cent, according to an official cited in the report.
One of the key areas of concern highlighted by the ICAO auditors was that the licencing of air-traffic controllers (ATC) was being carried out by the state-run Airports Authority of India (AAI).
ATC officials are also on the payroll of AAI. According to international practices, it is the DGCA that should issue licenses to ATC officials, who play a very critical role in managing flight operations across the country.