IndiGo pilot contests ban on Kunal Kamra; Puri says 'will go beyond rules'

Stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra
Even as the pilot of the aircraft, where stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra had verbally harassed journalist Arnab Goswami earlier in the week, said on Thursday the incident wasn’t serious enough to put the accused in a no-fly list for six months, the government defended its action.

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri told Business Standard that the incident was extraordinary as there was video evidence and that the actions of the airline were justified. “This particular incident has been recorded and constitutes an extraordinary situation of what a passenger can or cannot do. We cannot allow such incidents in our skies. The action is justified,” the minister said, when asked about the pilot’s stand.

The pilot said he was disheartened that the airline didn’t consult him and took a decision based solely on social media posts.

Kamra was suspended for six months following the incident by IndiGo. Air India, SpiceJet, and GoAir followed the action, followed by instruction from the civil aviation minister raising concerns that rules weren’t followed by airlines in suspending Kamra without any enquiry.

According to the Indian civil aviation rules, pilots’ complaint is the first step, following which a passenger can be classified ‘disruptive’ and action can be initiated, which includes a ban from three months to an indefinite period.

“As captain of 6E5317 Mumbai-Lucknow flight on January 28, I do not find the events reportable in any way. Mr Kamra’s behaviour, while unsavoury, was not qualifying of a level 1 unruly passenger. Indeed, we pilots can all attest to incidents similar and/or worse in nature that were not deemed unruly,” the pilot-in-command of 6E-5317 wrote to Senior Vice-President Ashim Mitra on Thursday. IndiGo confirmed that it is in receipt of the mail and is investigating the incident.

According to the rules on how to handle and initiate action against disruptive passengers, aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation states that the first action begins only when the pilots report the incident, following which the airline should refer the case to an internal committee.

“The pilot-in-command should quickly assess if the cabin crew can control the situation. Whenever an airline receives a complaint from the pilot, it should refer the incident to an internal committee,” state the rules framed in 2017.

In this case, the pilot in his email confirmed that Kamra went back to his seat, following the cabin crew’s instructions and the situation was defused, according to the process defined by IndiGo in its instruction manual.

When pointed out about the rule, Puri said that if the situation demands, the government will go beyond the rules to punish flyers. “If such extraordinary things happen, it is necessary that we go beyond the rules to keep our skies safe,” said Puri.

If it would have been other countries like the US, sky marshals would have dragged out Kamra, Puri said. However, according to global civil aviation norms, the cabin crew is trained by airlines to restrain an extreme unruly passenger before calling in law enforcement agencies.

When asked if there was a need to reframe the no-fly list to give more teeth, Puri said he hasn’t applied his mind to it. “I can say this action was not political but completely keeping in mind to make our skies 100 per cent safe,” the minister added.

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