India's aviation safety ratings have been downgraded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) from the top to the second category, which would affect expansion of flights by Indian carriers to the United States.
The downgrade from Category I to II means that Indian aviation regulator does not meet the safety standards set by the UN agency, International Civil Aviation Organisation.
The FAA decision was made known to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) early today, sources said.
The FAA downgrade of India's safety rankings would effectively bar Air India and Jet Airways from increasing flights to the US from what they currently operate or have any new code-share relationships with any US airline.
However, it does not mean that these airlines are unsafe but show that the DGCA's safety oversight may not be enough to properly monitor safety performance of Indian carriers.
To avoid such a downgrade, the Indian aviation regulator had been rushing to take several steps in the recent past to recruit more professional and technical hands and preparing technical manuals to provide for fresh rules to meet the exigencies of the growing Indian aviation market.
In a status report filed with its US counterpart last week, DGCA had said it had addressed the FAA's concerns over 33 aviation safety issues.
The report was filed a day after the Cabinet approved a Civil Aviation Ministry proposal to allow DGCA to hire 75 experienced professional and technical hands directly from the market, instead of going through the UPSC recruitment route, and to pay them salaries at market rates.
The hurried manner in which these decisions were taken was aimed at meeting the deadlines of the FAA, which conducted two rounds of aviation safety audits in September and December last year and asked DGCA to correct the deficiencies, the sources said.
Among the concerns raised by the FAA over 33 issues were filling up of several senior positions including those of full-time Flight Operations Inspectors (FOIs), beefing up of aviation safety training programmes and preparing manuals and documentation on certain safety issues.
The FAA, which has over the years downgraded ratings of several nations including that of close ally Israel, Mexico, Venezuela and the Philippines, uses 'downgrade' as more of a tool to pressurise countries to shape up their regulatory schemes but not as a warning of imminent safety problems, they said.