Govt considers adding more teeth to aviation regulators ahead of ICAO audit

Civil aviation safety and security regulators may get the powers to fine airlines and airports up to Rs 1 crore for violations, ahead of a key UN body audit early next year.

The civil aviation ministry has sought Cabinet approval for amending the Aircraft Act, 1934, to give more powers to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS). 

A Bill would be introduced in the upcoming Parliament session after the Cabinet nod, it is learnt.

Currently, the DGCA can suspend or cancel licences of operators. Pilots and engineers can also face suspension for safety violations. The DGCA, however, cannot impose fines. Similarly, BCAS can order removal of an employee from an aviation security function for negligence or lapse. Currently, the law provides for penalties from Rs 2-10 lakh but these can be levied only after a court order. However, there has been no levy till date.

The National Civil Aviation Policy 2016 had proposed giving more powers to the regulators and the issue is being taken up now in view of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) audit early next year.

The ICAO, had in its November 2017 audit, had made certain observations regarding licensing of professionals and aviation legislation in the country. The ICAO’s universal safety oversight audit covers eight areas and India had fared poorly in the area of licensing of aviation professionals.  India’s score in this area was way below the global average and the country’s overall safety score fell from 65.8 to 55.7 per cent in 2017.

Even Pakistan and Bangladesh fared better in their respective audits in 2017. In a subsequent audit in 2018, India’s overall score improved to 70.8  per cent.

To improve its safety performance, the DGCA has initiated licensing of 3,000 air traffic controllers and hopes to complete the task by December. Another observation of the ICAO pertained to legislation. It noted that regulators did not have powers to impose fines, thereby weakening enforcement of rules. Accordingly, the amendment has proposed allowing fines ranging from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 1 crore.

Now, airlines could be penalised if pilots or crew are caught drunk on duty, for not deploying minimum required number of cabin crew for duty and non-adherence to safety directives. Airports could face fines for shoddy upkeep of runways resulting in poor braking action.

“We hope the measures will help us improve our safety score further in the ICAO audit. The fines will serve as a deterrent against violations,” an official said.  
“Giving regulators the power to penalise will help improve safety but there has to be proper safeguard and transperancy. The powers should be used judiciously and fairly,” said A K Chopra, retired joint director general, DGCA. The government also hopes that the provision of monetary fines will lead to improvement in customer service. 

“The DGCA has formed a team, which includes officials from the Indian Statistical Institute, to study customer complaints. Data will be collected and airlines will be show-caused if the rate of redressal is found to be unsatisfactory. The data will also be put out on a public platform,” a senior DGCA official said.

The civil aviation ministry had launched a mobile app, Air Sewa, for addressing passenger grievances but there is a feeling within the government that it has not given the desired results. Air Sewa registers complaints, forwards them to airlines and airports. But the status of redressal is not properly checked. If the companies say that the problem is solved, then a complaint is closed. Real redressal is very less,” said an official of the ministry of civil aviation. 

“Not redressing passenger complaints will also be counted as a violation of civil aviation regulations,” the official added.

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