Air India erred in dismissing a passenger’s complaint against another co-traveller, and in not registering it, a senior government official said in response to the airline referring to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s (DGCA) decision to suspend one of its pilots as “excessive”, and its employee unions seeking a review on the ground that there was little evidence against the accused for him to be reported as unruly to the police and the regulator.
“You can’t ignore the complainant. There is no question of not taking cognisance of the matter once it is brought to light by a passenger, especially a case like this one where IPC Sections on outraging the modesty of a woman are applicable. The crew can’t take the investigation of the incident into their hands,” a senior government official said on the matter.
Six employees unions, including five of Air India staff, have written to the DGCA asserting that as there were no eyewitnesses to the alleged incident involving a passenger, Shankar Mishra, urinating over a co-traveller on an Air India flight from New York to Delhi on November 26, and since the two had arrived at a settlement, the pilot had not deemed Mr. Mishra unruly. Air India too said that the DGCA’s action against its pilot-in-command was “excessive” and that it would help him appeal the decision. Along with suspending the pilot for three months, the regulator has imposed a fine of ₹30 lakh on Air India for failing in its regulatory obligations by not reporting the matter, as well as a fine of ₹3 lakh on the airline’s director of in-flight services.
The airline said that the crew had made a “judgment call” to not record the incident as unruly on the basis of “absence of witnesses to the alleged act, that the alleged perpetrator was peaceful, co-operative and claiming ignorance of the event, that there was no risk to flight safety and that a resolution had been witnessed among the parties”, adding that the alleged perpetrator posed no risk to flight safety at any time. But it also acknowledged that the complainant’s accusation should have been taken at face value and the incident reported, even though in the absence of eyewitnesses, the crew were being asked to “make a presumption of the accused’s guilt which runs contrary to natural justice”.
According to the DGCA’s Civil Aviation Requirement for the handling of unruly passengers, an airline representative has to lodge a First Information Report (FIR) with the concerned security agency at the aerodrome where the aircraft lands, and to whom the unruly passenger should be handed over. The pilot-in-command has to report the matter to the airline, which has to constitute an internal complaints committee that decides whether the passenger can be banned from flying for a period of three months to life, depending on the nature of the offence. This information has then to be provided to the regulator.
The above quoted government official said that when the appeal is made “a quasi-judicial process will be undertaken by the Director General of DGCA, and the appeal will be heard on merits”.
According to Section 12.4.5 of the Enforcement Policy and Procedures Manual of the DGCA, “where the alleged offender requests a review by the DGCA and applies for a stay of suspension pending its decision, the concerned officer shall not oppose the application unless it appears that a threat to aviation safety would result”.