India is set to amend its ground handling regulations for foreign airlines to pacify the U.S., which in a retaliatory action recently barred Air India from performing ground operations on its own at American airports.
“We are adjusting ground handling norms and devising a mechanism to attempt to address their concerns without compromising security,” P. S. Kharola, Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation, told The Hindu .
On July 30, the U.S. Department of Transportation served an order amending Air India’s foreign air carrier permit, and barring it from performing its own ground-handling functions in the U.S., after India failed to allow U.S. airlines to “exercise their bilateral right to perform their own ground handling (to “self-handle”) at Indian airports”. Air India is the only Indian carrier that currently flies to the U.S.
“A special dispensation will be allowed to those countries with whom we have an air services agreement to perform ground operations,” said another official in the Ministry of Civil Aviation, speaking on condition of anonymity. The employees of these foreign airlines would, however, be subjected to stricter security monitoring, the official added.
It is reliably learnt that the Ministry will be seeking an in-principle approval from the Union Cabinet as the issue pertains to national security, before moving to modify the clause in the Airports Authority of India (Ground Handling Services Regulations), 2018, which forbids foreign airlines from carrying out security functions within ground handling services.
The amendment will provide relief to two other countries with which India has an air services agreement on ground handling — Australia and Canada. The restriction on security functions will continue to apply to foreign airlines of other countries, the official added.
While neither does Air India ‘self-handle’ in the U.S., nor do U.S. passenger and cargo airlines currently perform their own ground handling in India, the tussle is being seen more as an assertion of a right that the U.S. would like to retain, rather than about using it.
Section 3(2) of the ground handling regulations states that a foreign airline may undertake passenger and baggage handling activities before the passenger security hold area at an airport terminal, but prohibits them from carrying out a list of 60 security functions in ground operations that include loading and unloading of baggage, emplaning and deplaning passengers, fuelling and the cleaning of aircraft.
India earned U.S. ire as the regulations, which were amended in 2017 and notified again in 2018, were at variance with the India-U.S. air services agreement of 2005, which allowed the two countries’ airlines to perform their own ground handling in the territory of the other party.