Domestic airlines’ plans to expand in the US market received a major blow on Friday with the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) downgrading India’s aviation safety rating for the first time to Category 2. The downgrade came because of the inability of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to meet minimum mandated safety requirements within the stipulated time frame.
The downgrade means that domestic airlines like Jet Airways and Air India, which have 28 flights to the US per week, will not be allowed to add new flights or enter into code-share agreements with US carriers. Air India flies three daily flights to New York and Chicago while Jet Airways operates a single flight to New York daily. Air India, which is looking to join Star Alliance this summer, could also lose out on code sharing opportunities with commercial US airlines. Moreover, the current fleet could also face additional checks at US airports. However, to expand operations in the US, domestic carriers could opt to wet lease an aircraft from a Category 1 country.
Experts say the downgrade could also encourage other regulatory bodies to follow suit. The downgrade could also adversely affect IndiGo and Tata-SIA, which plan to expand in the North American market.
“FAA’s downgrade typically has a domino effect. Safety regulators in the European Union (EASA), Singapore (CAAS), Japan (CAB) and UAE (GCAA) may follow suit soon,”
said Amber Dubey, partner and head, aerospace
and defence, at global consultancy KPMG.
“This puts paid to Air India’s likely membership of the Star Alliance. Jet’s plans to go global through the Abu Dhabi hub may suffer too. IndiGo and SpiceJet may not be able to expand services globally. Start-up airlines like Tata-SIA and AirAsia would not be able to fly international even if the 5/20 Rule is abolished,” Dubey added.
Union civil aviation minister Ajit Singh said that he was disappointed with FAA's decision, though he expressed hope that the matter would be resolved soon. “This is very disappointing and surprising. The report has not taken into account the progress made since December. We are hopeful that when we complete the training of the inspection officers by March, the FAA will review this. DGCA will be in touch with them on every step and discuss technical issues continuously.” He added, “As soon as it is established that we have met all the requirements, India can regain its position. In