United Pares Jet Airways Ties as India Safety Rating Cut

United Airlines will suspend a marketing agreement with Jet Airways (India) Ltd. after U.S. regulators cut the Asian nation’s aviation-safety ranking for the first time.

The downgrade by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration blocks Indian carriers from starting new service to the U.S. and opens up their planes for additional inspections in the U.S. Officials acted because India hasn’t fixed safety deficiencies found in earlier assessments, the FAA said in a statement.

Hours later, United said it halted the use of its booking codes on Jet Airways flights, a practice that lets fliers arrange a seamless trip on jets from both carriers. The move takes effect tomorrow, and passengers are being rebooked, Chicago-based parent United Continental Holdings Inc. said in an e-mailed statement.

United’s action marked some of the first fallout from the FAA designating India as Category 2 from Category 1, the same standing as Zimbabwe, Paraguay and Indonesia. That was a blow to India’s bid to boost the aviation industry after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government eased investment rules and spent billions of dollars to upgrade more than a dozen airports.

“U.S. and Indian aviation officials have developed an important working relationship as our countries work to meet the challenges of ensuring international aviation safety,” FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in the statement. “The FAA is available to work with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to help India regain its Category 1 rating.”

FAA Limits

American Airlines Group Inc. also withdrew its booking code from Jet Airways, covering one domestic route flown by the Indian airline. Passengers already have been reaccommodated, said Andrea Huguely, a spokeswoman for Fort Worth, Texas-based American.

Reciprocal code-share arrangements between Category 2 nations and U.S. carriers aren’t supported by the FAA, according to the agency’s website. State-owned Air India Ltd. and Jet Airways are the only two Indian carriers serving the U.S.

India’s civil aviation minister, Ajit Singh, said in New Delhi today he was disappointed with the downgrade. Only two of 31 aviation issues raised by the FAA remain unresolved, Singh told reporters.

Indian carriers have ordered hundreds of aircraft from Boeing Co. and Airbus Group NV as they expand in one of the fastest-growing aviation markets in the world. Singh’s decision in September 2012 to ease investment rules attracted AirAsia Bhd. and Singapore Airlines Ltd. to start new ventures in the nation of 1.2 billion people.

India Ventures

AirAsia and Singapore Air have both tied up with India’s Tata Group for separate ventures while Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways PJSC has bought a stake in Jet Airways. They are seeking to tap a market where passenger numbers are forecast to triple to 452 million by 2020.

Under the International Convention on Civil Aviation (Chicago Convention), each country is responsible for the safety oversight of its own carriers, according to the FAA website. The FAA assesses the civil aviation authority of each country that has airlines operating to the U.S.

A December 2012 audit of India by the United Nations International Civil Aviation Organization identified “deficiencies,” the FAA said in its release. Afterward, the FAA began its own assessment of India’s DGCA, according to the release.

India Consultations

“The FAA has consulted extensively with the DGCA and other relevant Indian government ministries during its evaluation, including consultations in India in September and early December, and meetings this week in Delhi,” the FAA said in the release.

The Indian government “has made significant progress” in addressing the shortfalls identified by the FAA, the agency said in the release. It didn’t identify specific issues uncovered in the audits.

The FAA’s downgrade “is of significant interest” to the European Union, Dale Kidd, a spokesman for the European Commission in Brussels, said in an e-mail. While the EU Safety List and FAA’s rankings aren’t directly linked, the Europeans will study the U.S. findings, Kidd said. The EU Air Safety Committee will study the issue at its next meeting in March, he said.

An IASA assessment determines if the foreign authority provides oversight to its carriers that operate to the U.S., according to international standards.

Before lowering a nation’s ranking, the FAA typically spends months working with regulators to improve oversight, Steve Wallace, a retired FAA official, said in an interview. Wallace helped oversee the program in Europe and the Middle East during the 1990s.

The FAA looks at whether a country has adequate regulations and qualified inspectors, he said.

The FAA’s assessments of foreign nations grew out of the 1990 crash of an Avianca Holdings SA flight from Medellin, Colombia, to New York. The plane ran out of fuel before reaching John F. Kennedy International Airport, raising questions about the airline’s safety procedures. The crash killed 73.

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