The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the national aviation authority in America, has issued a safety alert for its operators – a move that could have far-reaching implications for Indian airlines. Indian training and safety standards are far below those demanded by the FAA, and experts have warned that airlines operating out of India stand a very real risk of being downgraded. This, they say, could even lead to Indian carriers getting barred from flying to America.
The FAA's Safety Alert for Operators (SAFO), issued for airlines and regulators around the world, deals specifically with degradation in pilots' skills, which is significant, keeping in mind recent controversies involving Indian pilots fudging simulator training records.
In the last one month, Jet Airways has derostered two pilots and Air India suspendeditstrainingheadforfudging simulator training records.
Asking airlines to encourage manual flight operations, the FAA said, "Flight operations data has identified an increase in manual handling errors and the continuous use of automated systems could lead to degradation of the pilot's ability to quickly recover the aircraft from an undesired state."
TheFAAurgedoperatorstodevelop and review their policies and training modules to ensure that pilots understand when the use of automated systems is preferred. "FAA advises that airlines adapt their policies to ensure that their pilots have the appropriate opportunities to exercise the aforementioned knowledge and skills in flight operations," the alert read.
Aviation expert Mohan Ranganathan said, "The FAA has taken a serious note of the diminishing proficiency standards. Unfortunately, in India, even examiners who have been fudging simulator hours and clearing pilots without any training or proficiency, are let off by the DGCA. Training violations should never be condoned because passenger lives are at risk."
With India's training standards nowhere close to the new guidelines and DGCA willingness to improve standards in doubt, experts warn of the worst-case scenario.
An FAA downgrade effectively means that aviation authorities have fallen short on technical expertise, personnel, record-keeping or inspection procedures. A downgrade would mean airlines will be prevented from launching new services to or from American cities, while existing codesharing agreements will be prohibited as long as the country remains downgraded. Atthesametime,existingflightswillbe subject to stringent checks.
"TheFAAhadputIndiaonnoticein August 2012, following which the DGCA explained its position and bought time. But if this kind of thing continues, the sword could come down any time," Ranganathan said.
Directorate general of civil aviation Arun Mishra said, "We have seen the safety alert and will act upon it as required.Violationsreportedtousarebeing investigated and steps will be taken to fulfill both FAA and the International Civil Aviation Authority (ICAO) guidelinessoastoavoidanydowngradeor strictures."