In what may ensure more stringent implementation of air safety norms, at least 25 defence airbases hosting scheduled commercial flights have been asked to get safety and operational clearances from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) by 31 December.
This comes in the wake of complaints that some of the runways at these defence airbases are unsafe for commercial flight operations.
The clearance requirement from India’s civil aviation regulator follows concerns raised by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the United Nations’ aviation watchdog.
DGCA last month asked the state-run airport developer Airports Authority of India (AAI), and the carriers operating from these airbases, to complete the certification process by the end of this year, officials with knowledge of the development said.
AAI manages 125 airports, which include 25 civil enclaves at defence airfields, 81 domestic airports, 11 international airports and eight customs airports.
“Currently, defence aerodromes are exempted from licencing by DGCA for commercial operations, but they need to get the required certifications by 31 December this year,” said a senior civil aviation ministry official requesting anonymity.
Another official, who also did not want to be named, said this would further strengthen the safety and security measures at the airports. “The government has decided that scheduled flights can operate from defence airports only when these airports get a licence from the civil aviation regulator,” the official said.
“The licence requirement would be applicable to all defence aerodromes from where flights have scheduled operations,” he added.
The move comes ahead of the ICAO’s audit of India’s air safety and air worthiness, to be conducted over the next few months. India was downgraded to category II by the US Federal Aviation Administration (USFAA) in January 2014 over safety oversight. The ban was only lifted 15 months later, in March 2015, after DGCA put in effective measures, as directed by USFAA and ICAO.
DGCA will now examine and assess safety issues across these airports, and also evaluate the infrastructure, including the air traffic control, which are crucial for air operations, the second official quoted above explained.
The official pointed out that the safety and operational requirements of a commercial aircraft is very different from that of a defence aircraft and the gap must be bridged. “That’s the concern of ICAO as well,” he said.
Queries emailed to spokespersons of the ministry of civil aviation, the ministry of defence, DGCA and AAI on 2 September remained unanswered.
Anthony Philbin, chief of communications, ICAO, in an emailed response said InfraCircle’s queries refer to audit findings, which the organisation is not permitted to share with or comment upon, based on the memorandum of understanding in place between ICAO and all its 191 member states, covering how the audits must be conducted and reported.
“Only the information on our USOAP (Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme) interactive results page can be published or discussed by ICAO,” he added in the mail.
ICAO, under USOAP, conducts regular, mandatory, systematic and harmonised safety audits of all the contracting states to ensure that the countries fulfil their safety obligation in sync with the Chicago Convention.
Experts welcome the additional safety measures proposed by the government as they think due to a sharp rise in the number of flights, regulatory and safety norms aren’t keeping up with the fast industry expansion.
Gurcharan Bhatura, an aviation expert and director general of the Foundation for Aviation and Sustainable Tourism, said this is in the interest of air passengers and airlines, and would ensure that the safety and security standards for civil aviation operations are scrupulously followed.
“You cannot close all commercial operations being carried out from these defence airbases. So, you have to look for a viable solution and also have to address the ICAO’s concerns,” said Bhatura.
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