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Indian leaders have been attempting to boost the country's aviation industry with airport upgrades and eased investment rules, but technological knowhow and infrastructure are key to safe flying today.

India’s aviation regulator needs to demonstrate it understands the technology behind new aircraft and it has the resources to ensure airlines follow safe practices, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration said.

The FAA on Jan. 31. downgraded India’s aviation safety ranking to Category 2 from Category 1, putting it on par with Zimbabwe and Indonesia. Getting upgraded could take months, if not years, though only if the Indian administration moved quickly to address the concerns, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in an interview in Singapore today.

“The principal thing is, there’s been a lot evolution in the aviation industry there,” Huerta said. “They bought a lot of new aircraft to their fleet including technologically advanced aircraft. Are there inspectors trained and conversant in the nature of the aircraft the authority is operating,” he said. “As a regulator you can only oversee what you have technical understanding of.”

India, home to 1.2 billion people, couldn’t find enough officials to ensure safe operation of flights, forcing the FAA to strip the country of the top-rank safety rating and prompting Singapore to increase inspection on Indian aircraft. The South Asian country’s aviation industry has boomed in the past decade with carriers ordering more than $50 billion of new planes, including most modern aircraft such as Boeing Co. 787.

State-run Air India operates 12 Boeing 787 Dreamliners while Jet Airways (India) Ltd. has 10 on order. Air India last week had to divert a Dreamliner to Kuala Lumpur after a software glitch on a flight to New Delhi from Melbourne.

New Inspectors

The FAA’s downgrade meant Indian carriers had to freeze capacity to the U.S. at current levels. Indian authorities will hire 75 flight operation inspectors and provide training to more people to win back the rating, Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said Jan. 31.

The FAA found deficiencies at India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation in December 2012, according to a statement from the U.S. regulator. It again held consultations with the DGCA and Indian ministries last year and in January. India had won the Category 1 rating in 1997.

Mexico, which was downgraded two and a half years ago, regained the top rating after only six months, a record, he said. India is considering setting up a new civil aviation authority which will replace the current regulator. That proposal has been lying with the government for over a year.

While the downgrade constitutes a criticism of the country’s regulatory framework, it’s the individual airlines that end up suffering, Tony Tyler, head of the largest aviation industry group, told journalists at a briefing in Singapore earlier this week.

Editors: Anand Krishnamoorthy and Vipin V. Nair.

To contact the reporters on this story: Andrea Rothman in Singapore at [email protected]; Anurag Kotoky in Singapore at [email protected] To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anand Krishnamoorthy at [email protected]; Benedikt Kammel at [email protected]

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Tags: faa, india, safety

Photo credit: Air India plane takes off from Toronto, Canada. BriYYZ / Flickr

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