India says FAA downgrades aviation safety rating

ASHOK SHARMA Associated Press Published:

NEW DELHI (AP) -- The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has downgraded India's air safety rating over concerns about pilot training and other issues, Indian officials said Friday.

The downgrade to the lower of two safety categories means Indian airlines cannot increase the number of flights they operate to the United States or enter into any new code-sharing arrangements with American carriers, said Uday Moray, India's Civil Aviation Ministry spokesman. He said the move will not affect current flights.

India has started training programs to address the problems and should be in line with the FAA's top-category standards by March, Moray said.

Moray said the FAA raised 33 issues, including beefing up safety training programs, offering better safety documentation and hiring full-time flight operations inspectors.

Jitender Bhargava, a civil aviation expert, said the FAA's decision is embarrassing for India but does not mean it's unsafe to fly on Indian carriers.

He said the move will hurt Indian airlines Air India and Jet Airways at a time when foreign carriers are expanding flights to India.

The move will "hit the market share of Indian carriers in our home market," he said.

India is one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world, averaging about 11 percent growth a year, according to the U.S. Trade and Development Agency.