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Independent body to deal with aviation safety

New Delhi: In order to ensure better regulation over aviation safety and security, an independent Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is on the anvil with the Civil Aviation Ministry finalising a draft legislation on the issue. Once the draft is finalised, it would be circulated to other ministries for their inputs before it is placed before the Union Cabinet for approval. However, this process would take some time, official sources said.

The proposed CAA would have financial and administrative autonomy to take expeditious decisions on matters relating to a range of activities — from regulation of air traffic services and licensing to ensure financial fitness of airlines, they said.

The CAA would come up at a time when the total number of planes in the country is about 440 and is estimated to cross 1,000 in a few years. In addition, over 200 helicopters and private jets are also flying in the country. The passenger handling capacity of Indian airports, which was just 66 million in 2005, has reached 225 million now and is expected to cross 500 million in the next 10 years.

In this backdrop, the CAA would take over the responsibilities of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) like air safety, airspace regulation, setting aviation standards, licensing of airlines, pilots, air traffic controllers and engineers, besides consumer protection.

The Ministry is also proposing to provide certain economic regulatory functions to the new authority, including airfares and areas like consumer protection, environmental research and consultancy. The CAA is also likely to decide on ground handling and other charges which airlines have to pay to airport operators. It is likely to act as an ombudsman to deal with complaints against airlines, airports and other agencies.

With its proposed autonomy, CAA would be able to recruit professionals directly for a variety of jobs, instead of routing it through the UPSC as it does now, they said, adding that about 400 technical positions in DGCA were lying vacant now.

The CAA would also conduct periodic safety and security audits, including flight inspections of agencies, to ensure that the prescribed local and global standards are being met. The authority would have powers to take preventive, corrective and punitive action against agencies and staff for violation of rules and regulations and to ensure ethical trade practices, the sources said.

While preparing the draft legislation, the Ministry studied the aviation regulatory systems in many countries and decided to follow the British Civil Aviation Authority model. Such aviation regulatory body exist in several countries like the US, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, which are empowered to regulate all safety issues, advising the government on all civil aviation matters, managing national airspace so as to meet the needs of all users, keeping in mind national security, economic and environmental factors.

A feasibility study to set up the CAA was commissioned in October 2009 in technical cooperation with the UN body International Civil Aviation Organisation to improve financial and administrative autonomy for discharge of safety oversight functions more effectively. The ICAO study was reviewed by the DGCA and the Civil Aviation Ministry last year and the proposal was also endorsed by the US Federal Aviation Administration which said the body being proposed would be in line with ICAO guidelines.

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