Amber Dubey, partner and India head of aerospace and defence at global consultancy KPMG, tells us that with spread of aviation across the country through the government’s ambitious Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS), the challenge of enhancing safety structures and procedures has increased manifold
India is on a modernisation spree of its aviation sector. What are the challenges regarding safety issues?
Safety challenges will remain the same despite growth in aviation. Some of the main factors include ensuring airworthiness of aircrafts in operation and maintenance of other equipment (ground equipment, navigation equipment, etc.), keeping cognizance of human performance limitation, ensuring maintenance of security processes and ensuring adequate communication amongst all aviation stakeholders.
The real issue that India is experiencing, thanks to the high growth phase in traffic, is that adequate structures and procedures are yet to be build to deal with the scale of errors and violations that would occur. Oversight of the aforementioned activities would have to become more robust in order to ensure safe operating levels.
Ensuring safety assurance at the level of all operators along with requisite oversight by regulatory authorities (Directorate General of Civil Aviation [DGCA] and Bureau of Civil Aviation Security [BCAS]) is the challenge. This challenge is enhanced manifold with the spread of aviation across the country through the government’s ambitious RCS initiative.
How is the challenge being addressed by different stakeholders in India?
The challenge of dealing with this kind of growth is not intrinsic or restricted only to India. There are adequate procedures and guidance available globally to act as reference points for India.
The stakeholders (Ministry of Civil Aviation [MoCA], regulators, Air Navigation Service [ANS] providers, airline operators, and Maintenance, Repair and Operations [MRO] operators) have taken up the task of addressing the safety issue within their own spheres of operation.
An example of this is the effort being undertaken by stakeholders towards implementation of GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation (GAGAN). Developed by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) in conjunction with Airports Authority of India (AAI), GAGAN provides highly accurate satellite-based guidance to aircrafts and obviates the requirement to have ground-based navigation equipment. This coupled with Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast ADS-B (Out) will push the safety envelope across not only India but also across most parts of Africa and Asia.
The International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) conducted a 10-day audit of India’s aviation regulator in November. It placed India in its list of 13 worst-performing nations in terms of air safety in 2012. Will India fare any better this time? We believe MoCA and DGCA are taking adequate steps to address the adverse findings of previous ICAO reviews. Things may get better with time. Once 90 percent of DGCA processes become automated and online, it will free their bandwidth for more extensive field inspections, without going overboard. That may lead to a better oversight of adherence to safety norms.
How is the rapid modernisation straining safety issues?
More than rapid modernisation, the increased utilisation of aircrafts, airport infrastructure, non-availability of skilled manpower, etc., are straining safety structures.
Even though such growth is highly welcome, its quantum was not foreseen. As a result, the internal safety control and safety assurance structures of the operators along with regulatory oversight structures are over-stretched. It needs to be addressed on priority. Any unfortunate incident involving loss of lives can set Indian aviation back by five to ten years.
How far is the institutional and regulatory framework geared up to implement a robust safety system in Indian aviation?
The DGCA is undertaking a comprehensive review of the regulations to ensure relevance and practical implementation.
BCAS has also taken steps to ensure a seamless travel experience while maintaining security standards. The removal of hand baggage tags is welcome. We may soon shift to biometric checks and paperless travel. Even immigration checks may go digital.