Not long ago, Indian aviation seemed to have the wind at its back. The panic sown by the downfall of Kingfisher Airlines had all but disappeared. The government’s decision to allow foreign carriers to invest in Indian airlines had rescued an ailing private carrier and set the stage for the launch of two airlines. Air India was making a steady return to health.
More airports were on track to be run by private operators. What a difference a few months make. Last week, US authorities cut India’s air safety rating for the first time, aviation’s equivalent of a public flogging, highlighting the erratic nature of growth in the sector.
The decision of the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to revise India’s air safety oversight ranking from ‘1’ to ‘2’ triggered a deluge of reactions like “humiliation”, “a black day in India’s aviation history” and “doomed”.
These were not only by pundits: aviation is much like cricket — everyone is an expert or at least believes so and the sector attracts a large following of bored former airline executives, retired bureaucrats, aspirants and plain enthusiasts. The reactions were hardly surprising — to conclude Indian aviation is as safe as that of Swaziland, Uruguay and Zimbabwe cannot be music to ears. India’s ambitions to emerge as a leading aviation market had come crashing down.