Written by: Alan Corner
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Aiming for a safety upgrade

India has been getting a bad press in terms of aviation safety recently, particularly following the FAA's downgrade of India's safety ranking from Category I to Category II in January of this year. The downgrade was largely attributed to a lack of flight inspectors, but the FAA identified more than 30 issues to address. With FAA inspectors invited back this month for fresh audits, could it be possible that India might regain its Category I status barely 11 months after losing it?

The truth is that India has been working on improving safety for far longer. Since 2010, as part of a framework project funded by the European Union, Helios (along with its consortium partner Human Dynamics) has been supporting India's Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in developing and implementing a State Safety Programme (SSP). In addition to the SSP, there have been important changes to the Aircraft Rules and other civil aviation regulations. There have also been structural changes in the DGCA itself, creating a new cross-cutting SSP/SMS Division and increasing the capability of the Air Safety Directorate at the headquarters and its regional offices.

A key requirement of the new regulations is that service providers develop and implement their own safety management systems (SMS). This has been a step change for many providers used to the more traditional compliance-based approach. The DGCA recognised the scale of the change and, with our help, provided tailored support to all service providers, including a series of workshops and seminars aligned to each SMS phase and over 100 informal 'SMS visits' to give guidance and share best practice. The DGCA also considered itself a partner in the implementation, developing its own procedures and investing in new systems and training for its own staff.

So four years on, what are the outcomes? Service providers, such as the major airlines and international airports, have embraced the changes and most of them have credible safety management systems. For some other service providers there is still room for improvement.

Data availability is also much improved. The DGCA has been able to use this to identify its safety priorities and to develop the first State Safety Plan, which includes safety performance indicators, targets and action plans. This is scheduled to be published later this year and signals the start of a more risk-based approach to safety.

With Helios' work on this project coming to an end soon, the SSP and State Safety Plan, underpinned by the enhanced capabilities of the DGCA staff, will provide a strong foundation for continuing safety improvements. We wish them well.

For more information contact Alan Corner.

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