India revokes restrictions, US airlines to perform ground handling at Indian-airports soon

indica News Bureau-

Indian government has decided to revoke the restrictions on American airlines from performing ground handling at Indian airports.

American airlines can do safety checks and other ground clearance while boarding passengers at plane. This decision came in an effort to resolve a persistent concern of the U.S. about the safety checks. After implementation of new regulations, airline staff of US airlines will handle all the operations beyond the check-in area, which is otherwise prohibited. 

According to a report of The Hindu, the Union Cabinet in its meeting on December 24, 2019, gave an in-principle approval for allowing international airlines from three countries — U.S., Canada and Australia — to carry out their own ground handling. This reversed a decision taken by the Cabinet in 2006 barring all foreign carriers from such operations, a senior government official said. The Cabinet also approved a draft standard operating procedure (SOP) detailing security measures to be adopted for such operations.

“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.

The move has come after 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”, on July 30, last year. Air India is the only Indian carrier that currently flies to the U.S.

The reason U.S., Canada and Australia are singled out is that the bilateral agreements with them were the only time India allowed international carriers to conduct their ground handling services on their own or to self-handle. However, the changes will be effected only for the U.S. as of now, it is reliably learnt. 

“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.

As a result, the Ministry of Civil Aviation (Ground Handling Services) Regulations, 2018, will now be amended so that they are at par with provisions of air services agreements India had entered into with the above three countries.

The amendments to the ground handling regulations will incorporate exceptions to the clauses 2 and 3 of Section 3. Clause 2 allows airlines to perform passenger and baggage handling, but bars them from security functions performed beyond the check-in area at airports. Clause 3 imposes similar restrictions on international cargo airlines.

However, the three airlines will be subjected to additional security post the changes. The US carriers that will self-handle in India will have to follow a standard operating procedure (SOP). The first point in the SOP is that the airline security staff and baggage screeners be Indian citizens and on direct payrolls of the concerned airline, subjected to a background check by Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS). The airline will also have to agree to be open to security audit, inspection and tests as and when required. Details and data of the movement of the cargo will also have to be made available to the BCAS through real-time CCTV footage. 

BCAS can also ask airlines for validating facilities at all points of departure and the Aviation Security Group (comprising different security agencies such as CISF, BCAS, among others) will be deployed at airside during cargo operations. The BCAS will also have the permission to intervene if the central security agency feels the need for it, reported The Hindu.