* India cut to Category 2 for not complying with safety
* Indian carriers cannot increase flights to the United
* United suspends code-sharing pact with Jet after FAA
* India hopes to resolve FAA concerns by March, to seek
By Devidutta Tripathy
NEW DELHI, Feb 1 U.S. authorities have
downgraded India's aviation safety rating, citing a lack of
safety oversight, meaning the country's carriers cannot increase
flights to the world's biggest aviation market and face extra
checks for existing ones.
India said it expected to resolve by March all concerns
raised by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, including
appointing an adequate number of flight operation inspectors,
and would ask the U.S. regulator to review its decision.
"The FAA has determined that India at this time is not in
compliance with the international standards for aviation safety
oversight," the U.S. regulator said in extracts from a
communication released by the Indian government on Friday.
Jet Airways and state-run Air India, the
only two carriers that fly from India to the United States, will
be hit by the downgrade. Air India has 21 weekly flights between
India and the United States, while Jet has seven.
Hours after the FAA downgrade, United Airlines said it would
suspend a marketing pact with Jet, with effect from Saturday.
FAA rules bar US carriers from code-sharing arrangements with
airlines from countries that have been downgraded.
Shares of Jet Airways shares closed Friday down 3.7 percent
in Mumbai, the Indian financial capital.
"It's very disappointing and also surprising," Indian
Aviation Minister Ajit Singh told a news briefing on Friday
after the FAA said it was downgrading the country to Category 2
from Category 1.
"In our view, 95 percent of all the issues raised have been
solved," Singh said, adding Indian would address all of the
FAA's concerns by March.
India joins countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines and
Bangladesh that have a Category 2 rating. As of Nov. 22, the FAA
kept 81 of the 96 countries reviewed in Category 1. India had
been in Category 1 since 1997, the FAA said in a statement.
Amber Dubey, head of aerospace and defence at consultancy
KPMG's Indian unit, said safety regulators in some other
countries may follow suit after the FAA downgrade, which would
then affect carriers such as IndiGo and SpiceJet that
fly to Asian and Middle Eastern countries.
"FAA's downgrade typically has a domino effect," Dubey said.
The European Aviation Safety Agency said on Friday it was
closely monitoring operations by non-European Union airlines but
so far had "no major concerns" with regard to India.
Transport Canada said Air India and Jet Airways continue to
hold certificates to fly to Canada. The Canadian regulator
verifies airlines comply with its own and world standards, and
can suspend permission for violations.
Airlines from Category 2 countries can continue operations
at current levels under "heightened FAA surveillance" but cannot
expand or change services to the United States, under the FAA's
International Aviation Safety Assessments programme.
State-run Air India does not have any plan to increase
flights between India and the United States, Prabhat Kumar, head
of India's aviation regulator, told reporters.
The FAA downgrade should not affect Air India's talks on
joining the Star Alliance group of carriers, Aviation Minister
Singh said on Friday.
Jet Airways, which last year sold a 24 percent stake to Abu
Dhabi's Etihad and is expanding its international flights, did
not reply to an email seeking a comment.
The FAA, which reviews the air safety preparedness of
different countries, audited the Indian aviation regulator in
September and December last year and had raised issues such as
insufficient flight inspection safety officers and training of
officers who certify a plane is airworthy.
India this week approved appointing 75 officers in a bid to
avert a downgrade and said it had addressed 29 of the 31 issues
raised by the FAA.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said the United
States and India were committed to restoring India to a Category
1 rating as soon as possible and an FAA team was in India in
part to discuss how to achieve that.
She said the regulatory decision was based on the standards
of the U.N.'s International Civil Aviation Organization and had
nothing to do with last year's dispute between the two countries
that led to the effective expulsion of an Indian diplomat
accused of visa fraud and underpaying her maid.
"These aren't our standards," Harf told a news briefing.
They're the ICAO standards everyone has to live under. And we're
committed to working with India to help them get back to a
Category One rating."