India amends rules to let U.S. airlines do their own ground handling

An American Airlines plane. File   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

In an effort to resolve a persistent concern of the U.S., India will make exceptions for American airlines on its ground handling regulations that prohibit international carriers from operations beyond the check-in area.

However, these airlines will have to allow a security audit by Indian agencies, and ensure that Indian employees are tasked with sensitive operations.

Following the changes, U.S. airlines will have access control to the aircraft, can screen unaccompanied baggage, conduct secondary check of passengers at the ladder point and have security control of cargo.

Until now, foreign carriers had to enter into an agreement with an Indian airline for performing these activities.

The Union Cabinet in its meeting on December 24, 2019, gave an in-principle approval for allowing international airlines from three countries — U.S., Canada and Australia — to carry out their own ground handling. This reversed a decision taken by the Cabinet in 2006 barring all foreign carriers from such operations, a senior government official said. The Cabinet also approved a draft standard operating procedure (SOP) detailing security measures to be adopted for such operations.

As a result, the Ministry of Civil Aviation (Ground Handling Services) Regulations, 2018, can now be amended so that they are on par with provisions of air services agreements India had entered into with the above three countries.

The reason U.S., Canada and Australia are singled out is that the bilateral agreements with them were the only time India allowed international carriers to conduct their ground handling services on their own or to self-handle. However, the changes will be effected only for the U.S. as of now, it is reliably learnt. The Hindu had reported as early as September 19, 2019, that India would be amending its rules to placate the U.S.

India was forced to bend over backwards to appease the U.S. after the latter objected to the discrepancy between the ground handling rules and the Air Services Agreement of 2005, asserting that the former denied its airlines their bilateral right. Following several warnings, the U.S. banned Air India from self handling in an order on July 30, 2019, in a retaliatory move.

“There were also warnings that Air India may be asked to submit details about its flight schedule afresh, causing inconvenience to the airline, which is the only Indian carrier operating between the two countries following the collapse of Jet Airways,” the official explained.

The amendments to the ground handling regulations will incorporate exceptions to the clauses 2 and 3 of Section 3. Clause 2 allows airlines to perform passenger and baggage handling, but bars them from security functions performed beyond the check-in area at airports. Clause 3 imposes similar restrictions on international cargo airlines.

When U.S. carriers self-handle in India, a standard operating procedure will have to be followed requiring airline security staff and baggage screeners to be Indian citizens and on the direct payrolls of the airline, who will be subjected to a thorough background check by aviation security watchdog, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS). These airlines will also have to be open to "security audit, inspection and test" as and when required and data pertaining to movement of cargo will have to be made available through real time feed of CCTV coverage. BCAS can also ask airlines for validating facilities at all points of departure and the Aviation Security Group (comprising different security agencies such as CISF, BCAS, among others) will be deployed at airside during cargo operations. The BCAS will also have the permission to intervene if the central security agency feels the need for it.

The changes will be effected only for the US, though the Union Cabinet has provided a blanket permission for all the three countries, according to the official.

While neither Air India self handles in the US, nor do American carriers in India, the denial of reciprocal rights by India as laid down under the air services agreement was viewed by the U.S. as a downgrade in the relationship.

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2021 4:30:08 AM |

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