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Penalty for airline violations hiked to Rs 1 cr from Rs 10 lakh as Parliament clears amendments

The violations include carrying arms, explosives, or other dangerous goods aboard aircraft and contravening any rules notified under the Act, among others.

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New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha Tuesday cleared the Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which proposes to increase the penalty for lapses and violations of airline norms from the existing Rs 10 lakh to Rs 1 crore and a jail term of up to two years.

The offences include carrying arms, explosives, or other dangerous goods aboard aircraft, contravening any rules notified under the Act, and constructing buildings or structures within the specified radius around an aerodrome reference point.

The new legislation is expected to go a long way in securing the safety of aircraft operations in India, in line with internationally accepted standards, procedures and practices laid down by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Speaking on the bill in the Rajya Sabha, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri said the last time the penalties were revised was in 2007.

The amendments will further give power to the government to have supervisory control on the standards of airport, communication, navigation and surveillance and air traffic management facilities.

The bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in March.

Once the amendment bill gets the Presidential assent, it will replace the existing Aircraft Act, 1934, which regulates the manufacture, possession, use, operation, sale, import and export of civil aircrafts and licensing of aerodromes.

Introducing the bill in the Rajya Sabha, Puri said that the operative thrust is to provide statutory recognition to DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation), BCAS (Bureau of Civil Aviation Security) and the AAIB (Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau), which govern the conduct of civil aviation.

“…this is necessary as we move forward with an exponential growth in civil aviation,” the minister told the House.

Puri said that an audit carried out by ICAO around 2012 indicated the need to give statutory recognition to these three agencies. The bill, the minister said, will also give power of superintendence to the government over these bodies. The amendments will also give power to the government to have supervisory control on the standards of airport, communication, navigation and surveillance and air traffic management facilities.

Giving figures of traffic growth, Puri said that in 2019-20 alone, Indian airports handled a staggering 341 million passengers. “This has made India the third largest civil aviation market domestically and we are in the process of becoming the third largest globally by 2022, after the United States and China in terms of both domestic and international passengers,” he said.

Also read: Full refund for domestic and international tickets booked during lockdown, DGCA tells SC

3 key bodies behind safety, security to get statutory powers

Among the key amendments that have been made to the original Aircraft Act, 1934, is giving statutory powers to the three organisations that deal with safety and security of the civil aviation sector in India — the DGCA, BCAS and AAIB. At present, these three organisations operate under an executive order.

Statutory backing to these three crucial organisations will not only allow them to function independently but also give them the teeth to function without any compulsion or pressure.

Each of the three bodies will be headed by a director general, who will be appointed by the Centre.

While the DGCA will be responsible for carrying out the safety oversight and regulatory functions in respect of matters specified in the Act, the BCAS will carry out the regulatory and oversight functions in respect of matters relating to civil aviation security.

The Aircraft Accidents Investigation Bureau, which was only set up in 2011, shall be responsible for carrying out the functions in respect of matters relating to the investigation of aircraft accidents or incidents. Earlier, the DGCA used to conduct all such investigations.

The central government, however, will have superintendence over the three regulatory bodies and will have the power to review any orders passed by the three bodies in public interest.

The absence of a statutory backing to these organisations was time and again highlighted by ICAO, the global aviation watchdog and had impacted India’s safety rankings.

According to the universal safety oversight audit programme for India carried out by ICAO in November 2017 and February 2018, the country’s score decreased to 57.44 per cent as against 65.82 per cent in 2017, way behind Pakistan and Nepal.

The score is also lower than the global average of 65 per cent.

Some of the other key provisions of the amended bill includes exempting BSF from the purview of the Act, enhancing the fines for various offences and power to the central government to suspend or cancel licenses.

Paramilitary forces like BSF to be exempted from Act

The Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020, also provides for keeping aircraft, belonging to “any other armed forces of the Union constituted by any law for the time being in force” other than naval, military or air force, outside the purview of the legislation.

The amendments will now allow exemption to paramilitary forces like the Border Security Force (BSF), which comes under the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Currently, under the existing Aircraft Act, 1934, such exemptions were provided to aircraft belonging to naval, military or air force. “All aircrafts operated by non-Ministry of Defence organisations including BSF, which is a paramilitary force, had to be registered with DGCA as a civilian aircraft,” said Martin.

The amendment was made following repeated requests from BSF to keep its aircraft and personnel outside the purview of the Act as it is not operating civilian aircraft.

Cancellation of license

The amendments also provides for suspension or cancellation of licence, certificate of approval issued to such person under this Act if any person contravenes any of the provisions of this Act or the rules made under it.

Such licences include those given for the establishment of an air transport service, establishment of aerodromes, and operation, repair, and maintenance of aircraft.

Also read: No question hour or friendly chatter — Covid forces Parliament to do away with many traditions


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