NEW DELHI: Fearing yet another downgrade, India’s civil aviation regulator, DGCA wants all 23 international airports across the country to ensure that they upgrade their operational standards, customer outreach and infrastructure to international standards, a key to impress the International civil aviation watchdog ICAO’s team visiting India in March next year.
A top government official told The New Indian Express that International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is more concerned about international operations and so international airports need to tune-up to ensure that they don’t slip on something which could come to the notice of ICAO.
As a result, International airports have been directed to prioritize and set their operational standards and norms and set their house in order ahead of the ICAO’s visit.
However, incidents involving commercial aircraft have been increasing at international airports in India and that is something which is also disturbing the Indian authorities ahead of ICAO’s team visit to India.
India has witnessed over 25 near-miss incidents in the past one year involving commercial aircraft, according to DGCA, of which at least 15 of these incidents alone have occurred at Chennai, Mumbai and Jaipur, all international airports since past one year.
Incidentally, Mumbai and Chennai international airports alone cater to around 35% of international inbound and outbound traffic.
A senior ministry official pointed out that air miss incidents have become more rampant at Mumbai international airport as the airport caters to more flights while its infrastructure is limited.
Similarly, international airport at Chennai, also has been facing air miss incidents besides many dozens of incidents of glass panels and sections of the false ceiling falling at the airport’s international terminal building ever since the airport was renovated and modernized in year 2012. These incidents have put lives of passengers at risk forcing country's top human rights body - the National Human Rights Commission - to intervene, but the incidents continue unabated. A survey last year found Chennai international airport the 7th worst in Asia.
The USFAA in January 2014 downgraded India’s civil aviation sector sighting safety oversight and lack of infrastructure at airports and manpower at DGCA.
Though the downgrade was withdrawn by the USFAA in March 2015, there is looming danger that the downgrade may recur, which has been brushed aside by the Indian government, as it claims that it has largely addressed the concerns raised by the USFAA and ICAO.
The USFAA’s decision to downgrade was taken after two consecutive visits by the ICAO in 2013 which pointed fingers at India’s lack of will to address issues and services at par with international standards of civil aviation prescribed by ICAO.
But the government also admits that meeting the international standards for civil aviation is something which cannot be addressed right away. However, it is looking at addressing concerns of international passengers as well.
DGCA is exploring options to shorten the reporting time at Indian airports. The reporting time for international flights at check-in counters is 150 minutes before the flight takes off, whereas, for domestic flights, the reporting time is 75 minutes before a flight’s departure.
India has 23 international airports, of which six are privately operated and the remaining 17 are operated by the state-run airport developer, Airports Authority of India (AAI). In total India has 125 airports, of which 76 are operational, besides over 374 airstrips spread across the country.