In India, the earliest legislation that was formulated to regulate the aviation industry was the Indian Airships Act of 1911. The Act has been enacted with the intent to control the possession, manufacture, import and export, use, and sale of airships. However, in India till the late twentieth century, there were no recurring flying operations carried out. Further, the manufacturing, sale, and related activities of the aircraft were not even commenced in the country. Hence, the Act and the regulations on such activities appeared to be equally ludicrous. Thereafter, the Aircraft Act, of 1934 was enacted.
Aircraft Act 1934
The Aircraft Act, of 1934, and Aircraft Rules, of 1937 were enacted to regulate the civil aviation industry in India. It emphasises making better provisions for:
Regulation of the manufacturing, possession, use, operation, sale, and import and export of aircraft.
Stipulation of the parameters for determining airworthiness, maintenance of aircraft, general conditions for flying and safety, registration of aircraft, and the conduct of investigations in case of any discrepancy.
This Act is applicable to Indian citizens, aircraft registered in India and persons on it, aircraft registered outside India and persons on it where meanwhile it is in India, and a foreign person who operates an aircraft in India or has a principle place of business in India.
However, the Act excludes aircraft registered in a country other than India, and aircraft registered in India but operated in other contracting states.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) enforces civil aviation laws and controls flight transportation, aviation health, and flight worthiness. The Director-General is responsible for investigation in case any occurs.
One of the important provisions in Part III of the Act states general safety conditions, in which, as per rule 23,
No person shall, on board an aircraft,
assault, intimidate or threaten, whether physically or verbally, any person,
intentionally cause damage to or destroy any of property,
consume alcoholic beverages or drugs, which is likely to endanger the safety of the aircraft or of any person or jeopardizes the good order and discipline on board the aircraft.
Post the pandemic, there were certain rules made for aircrew duties on domestic and international flights such as -
1. Meal Service
The airlines have been allowed to provide meal services on board.
Airlines may serve pre-packed snacks/meals / pre-packed beverages as per the policy of the Airlines depending on the duration of flight time.
In all classes, tray set-up, plates, and cutlery will be completely disposable with no re-use
In all classes, tea/coffee/ non-alcoholic beverage services will be in disposable cans/containers/bottles/glasses. There will be no pouring service and beverages will be served in single-use disposable units.
Crew shall wear a fresh set of gloves for every meal/beverage service.
The passengers would be informed of the above practices for strict compliance before the start of catering services by way of passenger announcements.
2. In-Flight entertainment (IFE)
Wherever available may be switched on, subject to strict compliance with the following guidelines -
Disposable earphones or cleaned and disinfected headphones will be provided to passengers at the start of the journey.
Each seat will have its own dedicated IFE to be used only by the passenger occupying the seat.
Over and above standard SOP for aircraft interior cleaning, all passenger touchpoints will be carefully cleaned and disinfected after the flight.
3. Ban if no mask
Refusal to wear a face mask on board a flight could put a passenger on the no-fly list.
Air India Pee Gate Case -
Recently, one of the oldest and largest air service providers in India, Air India has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. On November 26, 2022, an intoxicated man, now identified as Shankar Mishra, urinated on a female passenger, reportedly a senior citizen on a New York To Delhi business class Air India flight, AI 102. Apparently, Mishra got off the plane as if nothing had happened upon reaching the Delhi airport and the airlines didn't even look into the issue. Such behaviour is indeed disgraceful and unacceptable.
Reportedly, Air India has banned the accused, Shankar Mishra for 30 days following the female passenger's allegation. Further, an internal investigation into how the crew handled the situation is being planned by the airlines. However, an FIR against Mishra was filed on January 4 by the woman, following which he was arrested from Bengaluru and sent to 14-day judicial custody by the Patiala House court.
In the latest development in the Air India pee-gate case, accused Shankar Mishra told a Delhi Sessions court that he did not urinate on the woman passenger. He further claimed that the woman herself peed on her. Mishra’s counsel Advocate Ramesh Gupta went a step ahead and called the investigation a ‘joke’ and claimed that the complainant woman’s seat was blocked and it was not possible for Mishra to go there. Gupta further said that the complainant who is a Kathak dancer urinated on herself as 80% of Kathak dancers have this problem.
However, the judge stated that it was not impossible to go from one side of the flight to another. He stated that he had also travelled and well and anybody from any row could come around and go to any seat. The court denied bail to Mishra.
On January 6, DGCA issued Show Cause notices to the Accountable Manager of Air India, the Director of in-flight Services of Air India, and all the pilots and cabin crew members of that flight as to why enforcement action should not be taken against them for dereliction of their regulatory obligations. DGCA sought the details of the incident from Air India and on the basis of the reply of the airline, prima facie it emerges that provisions related to the handling of an unruly passenger on board have not been complied with.
The conduct of the concerned airline appears to be unprofessional and has led to a systemic failure. Prima facie it lacks appreciation of regulatory obligations as described in applicable Aircraft Rules 1937, Civil Aviation Requirements on 'Handling of Unruly Passengers', Cabin Safety Circular, Air India Operations Manual, Air India Safety and Emergency Procedure Manual and Air India Quick Reference Handbook and is devoid of empathy.
On 19 January, Air India banned Shankar Mishra from flying for four months in connection with the case. Other airlines are also expected to ban him from flying once the DGCA comes out with its decision on the matter.
Ten days after the shocking incident, another account of a drunk male passenger urinating on a female passenger's blanket on Air India flight 142 has been reported. Apparently, the pilot reported the case to the Air Traffic Control (ATC) at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. Reportedly, the male passenger was allowed to leave only when he gave a written apology.
Alcohol consumption on international flights -
These incidents have also sparked a debate on whether or not to serve alcohol on international flights. While domestic flights don’t allow the consumption of alcohol on the plane, international flights provide alcoholic beverages to their passengers. On one hand many believe that airlines are unlikely to ban serving alcohol and that the onus clearly lies on the passenger to conduct himself properly and also the aircrew to watch out for visible signs of a passenger reaching the point of inebriation.
Whereas some believe that when a person has excessive alcohol, they are not in their senses as the alcohol has taken control of their brain and they're not aware of what they're doing. This leads to judgment impairment and you're neither in control of your actions nor are you aware of the ramifications of those actions. That is why such sort of unfortunate events occur.
Although the official authorities have not announced any change of rules for international flights in providing alcoholic beverages.
Necessary actions to be taken by airlines in case of passenger misbehaviour -
The DGCA’s Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR) deem unruly behaviour onboard a plane as a punishable offence.
If an airline finds a passenger’s behaviour unruly, the pilot-in-command has to file a complaint, which is to be investigated by an internal panel. During the probe, the airline can ban the flyer for a maximum of 30 days. The committee has to decide on the matter within 30 days and specify how long the flyer can be kept from travelling. If the panel fails to give a decision within the stipulated time, the passenger is free to fly.
The committee must have a retired district and session judge as Chairman, a representative from a different scheduled airline as a member, and a representative from a passengers or consumer association.
These rules were developed after an incident involving former Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad assaulting an Air India staffer on a 2017 flight. Gaikwad was banned by several carriers for two weeks. Later that year, the no-fly list and the CAR came into effect.
According to CAR, 2017, the captain and the crew of a flight are supposed to inform the airline about a passenger's unruly behaviour once the aircraft lands at its destination airport. The airline will present the case before its internal committee which comprises a retired district session judge and two independent members.
CAR, 2017 grades offences into three categories and once the internal committee decides the level of offence and imposes a ban on the passenger, the decision has to be communicated to the DGCA/other airlines and the person should be put on the no-fly list. The rules necessitate lodging an FIR only in extreme cases of aggressive behaviour by a passenger which may cause the aircraft to make an emergency landing.
Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020 -
The Minister of Civil Aviation of India, Hardeep Singh Puri, introduced the Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020 before the Lok Sabha on February 4, 2020, to introduce certain modifications to the Aircraft Act, 1934. The Aircraft (Amendment) Act, 2020 was passed by the Lok Sabha on March 17, 2020, by the Rajya Sabha on September 15, 2020, and received presidential assent on September 19, 2020, thereby, according to it the status of enforceable law.
The genesis of this Amendment lies in the audit conducted in the years 2012 and 2015 by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) which indicated the need to give proper recognition to three existing regulatory bodies i.e. Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) and Aircraft Accidents Investigation Bureau (AAIB) which operate under the Ministry of Civil Aviation as statutory authorities under the Act, to enhance the quantum of penalties, to empower officers to levy greater fines for violations of the Act and to also include certain areas of air navigation services or rulemaking purpose under section 5 of the Act.
A major change in the Amendment Act is an increase in the penalty for contraventions of the Aviation laws and Rules thereof which seeks to further deter violation of the laws. For example, carrying arms, ammunition, explosives, or other banned goods on board, and developing illegal construction around the airports will attract fines of up to Rs 1 crore.
Earlier the penalty for contravention of rules made under Sub Section 2 of Section 5 of the Aircraft Act as stated in Section 10 was imprisonment up to 2 years or a fine up to Rs. 10 Lac or both. The Amendment Act has enhanced the penalty to a sum of Rs. 1 crore.
The Amendment Act has enhanced the penalty to 1 crore for other contraventions such as contravention of any Rules notified under the Act, Construction of buildings or structures within the specified radius around an aerodrome reference point, carrying arms, explosives, or other dangerous goods in the aircraft, flying any aircraft to cause danger to any person or property and others.