Sudhakar Reddy, president of Air Passengers Association of India, said the no-fly list is heavily tilted in favour of airlines. “The success of any law lies in it balancing the interests of all concerned. Unfortunately, at first glance, these rules look skewed against passengers. Who gave the right to airlines to ban the passenger without any enquiry? In all laws you are innocent till proven guilty,” Reddy said.
Industry executives also questioned the minister’s involvement, saying such a direction from the minister’s office undermines the laid-down guidelines by the aviation regulator. An executive of an airline that banned Kamra said, “The minister created undue pressure on airlines, forcing hurried decisions. You know whom you should ideally question on this and it’s not the airlines. Such things set a dangerous precedent.”
Queries sent to Puri’s office on why the minister interfered in a safety investigation process were diverted to civil aviation secretary P S Kharola, who didn’t comment.
In 2017, the government had issued rules for preventing disruptive behaviour by flyers and laid down guidelines for the no-fly list. Under those rules, offence was classified into three categories — Level 1 called for debarment of up to 3 months for behaviour that is verbally unruly; Level 2 called for debarment of up to 6 months for physical unruliness; and Level 3, where the debarment would be for at least 2 years, indicated life-threatening behaviour.
According to the 2017 rules, the complaint of unruly behaviour needs to be filed by the pilot-in-command, and such complaints are to be probed by an internal committee to be set up by the airline. The committee is then expected to decide within 30 days, and specify the duration of ban. During the period of pendency of the enquiry, the rules empowered the concerned airline to impose a ban on a passenger.
“The matter has to be referred to an internal committee of airlines and they have to give a final decision in 30 days and give reasons in writing. Punishment for different types of unruly behaviour is prescribed and airlines have to adhere to the same,” the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) said on Wednesday. “This is to reiterate that the action taken by the airlines is in complete consonance with Civil Aviation Requirements.”
Sanjiv Kapoor, who till last month served as chief commercial officer of Vistara, said, “DGCA regulations, like all other regulations, have to be followed and not disregarded. Else, we are on a slippery slope.”
Queries sent to IndiGo, SpiceJet, Go Air, and Air India on whether due process was followed didn’t elicit any response. Another query to the airlines on whether they have formed a committee to investigate the matter didn’t elicit any response either. Only Air India said they have a committee comprising of retired judge Ashok
Bharadwaj, Kamal Hingorani, an executive with SpiceJet, and Setu Vaidyanathan, vice-chairman, Passenger Association of India, to investigate such incidents.
Vistara and Air Asia India haven’t banned Kamra yet. A Vistara spokesperson said: “The airline stands firm with zero tolerance policy against any act that compromises safety and security. We will review and follow due process in such cases.” An AirAsia India spokesperson also said an internal committee was reviewing the incident and a “decision will be taken soon according to the due process”.