Given the downgrade of India’s aviation safety by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), to levels of countries like Zimbabwe, was so easily avoidable, the Cabinet has done well to clear the creation of a financially autonomous Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) to look after the safety of the Indian skies. Right now, the biggest problem with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) structure that is responsible for aviation safety was that since the DGCA was a department of the government, it had to function under the government’s rules. Which is why, for instance, it could not appoint the necessary number of qualified inspectors—given the number of flying hours required for certain jobs, the DGCA simply couldn’t afford to pay the salaries these professionals demanded.
The CAA, however, will be financially autonomous, funded as it will be by inspection charges on each airline. Under the CAA Bill—it still needs to be introduced, and then passed by Parliament—technical staff are to be paid market-determined rates, though the number of such staffers will be cleared in consultation with the ministry. And unlike in the case of other regulators, the Bill states that the Director General of the CAA will be a technical person—that will ensure retired bureaucrats will not be vying for the job, a must given how the job requires technical competence of the highest order. Though it is not possible to hazard a guess as to how soon, if at all, Parliament will pass the Bill, the fact that it takes into account most of the recommendations of the Standing Committee suggests it has a good chance of getting passed in the current session. If not, the process of restoring the safety ranking of Indian skies will take that much longer.