Recently, the Lok Sabha passed the Aircraft Amendment Bill 2020. The bill seeks to revamp the ailing aviation sector affected by number of issues the most recent of which are the COVID-19 crisis and the nationwide lockdown. The bill comes after the poor audit report from the ICAO which pointed out the loopholes in the regulatory system as one of the key causes of concern, also an issue that this bill seeks to address.
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What is Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020?
- The Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020 aims to make aircraft operations in India more secure in accordance with globally accepted standards and practices put forth by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
- The Bill, which is now awaiting passage in the upper house, seeks to amend the Aircraft Act, 1934 that regulates the manufacture, possession, use, operation, sale, import and export of civil aircraft and licensing of aerodromes.
Why is Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020 needed?
- International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), which is the UN’s global aviation watchdog, conducted the Universal Safety Oversight Audit Programme in India in November 2017 and February 2018.
- The audit found that the country’s score had declined to 44% from the earlier 65.82%, placing India below Pakistan and Nepal.
- ICAO visited India yet again in November 2018 and evaluated the actions taken on issues pertaining to three areas that were audited by ICAO in November 2015. These areas are related to aerodromes and ground aids, air navigation services and aircraft accidents and incident investigation.
- All of these audits indicated that there was a need to give proper recognition to the regulators, to enhance the maximum quantum of fines and to empower the department officials to impose financial penalties for violations of legal provisions.
- The 2020 Bill seeks to do the same.
What are the key features of Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020?
- The Bill converts three existing bodies under the Ministry of Civil Aviation into statutory bodies. These authorities include:
- Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA)
- Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS)
- Aircraft Accidents Investigation Bureau (AAIB)
- Currently, all three of these bodies operate under an executive order.
- These authorities carry out functions related to aircraft accidents and incidents.
- The Centre would appoint a Director General for each of these bodies.
- The Centre is also empowered to issue directions to these authorities on matters pertaining to their functions whenever there is a necessity in public interest.
Centre empowered to make rules
- Aircraft Act, 1934 allows the Centre to make rules on several matters.
- These include the following:
- Registration of aircraft
- Regulation of air transport services
- Prohibition of flights over any specified area
- The Bill adds to this list the regulation of air navigation services.
- It also enables the Centre to empower the Director General of BCAS or any authorised officer to issue directions and make rules on certain matters, which include:
- Conditions under which an aircraft may be flown
- Inspection of aircrafts
- Safety of civil aviation against acts of unlawful interferences
- The amendment Bill provides for the appointment of designated officers, not below the rank of Deputy Secretary, to adjudicate penalties under the Bill.
- Individuals aggrieved by an order of a designated officer may appeal to an appellate officer within 30 days from the day the order is received.
Offences and penalties
- According to the Aircraft Act, the penalties for various offences are imprisonment up to 2 years or a fine of up to 10 lakh or both.
- These offences include the following:
- Carrying arms, or other dangerous goods aboard an aircraft
- Violating any rules notified under the Act
- Constructing building or structures within the specified radius around an aerodrome reference point
- The amendment Bill increases the maximum limit on fines for all these offences from Rs.10 lakh to 1 crore.
Cancellation of permits
- The Bill allows the Central government to cancel the licences, certificates or approvals granted to an individual under the Act if he/she violates any provisions of the Act.
- These licences include those given for:
- The establishment of an air transport service
- The establishment of aerodromes
- The operation, repair and maintenance of aircraft
- The Bill allows for the compounding of certain offences under the Act or rules under the Act.
- These include the following:
- Flying to cause danger to any person or property
- The breach of any directions issued by the Director General of any of the three bodies
- Offences may be compounded by the Director Generals as prescribed by the Centre.
- Compounding of offences is not allowed in case of repeat offences.
- Court will not take cognizance of any offences under this Act, unless a complaint is made by or there is previous sanction from the DGCA, BCAS or AAIB.
- Only courts equivalent or superior to a Metropolitan Magistrate or a Magistrate of first class may hear offences under the Act.
- Aircrafts belonging to the naval, military or air force of the Union are exempted from the provisions of the Act.
- The Bill expands this provision to include aircraft belonging to any other armed forces of the Union.
- However, aircrafts belonging to an armed force other than naval, military and air forces which are currently regulated under the Act will continue to do so until specified otherwise by the Centre.
What are the functions of DGCA, BCAS and AAIB?
Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is a regulatory body in civil aviation that mainly deal with safety issues. It has the following functions
- Regulating air transport services to/from/within India.
- Registering civil aircrafts
- Setting airworthiness standards and certifying airworthiness of aircrafts registered in India.
- Licensing and conducting examinations for pilots, flight engineers and aircraft maintenance engineers. Licensing personnel for the post of air traffic controllers.
- Certifying aerodromes and CNS/ ATM facilities
- Investigating accidents and taking preventive measures such as formulating the implementation of Safety Aviation Management Program.
- Carrying out the amendments to Aircraft Act, Aircraft Rules and Civil Aviation Requirements.
- Coordinating to enable flexible use of airspace and coordinating with the ICAO to provide more air routes for civil use of Indian airspace.
- Regulating aircraft noise and emissions.
- Promoting the use of indigenous aircrafts and its components.
- Issuing authorization for transport of dangerous goods via aircrafts.
- The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security was established in 1978 on the recommendation of the Pande Committee as a Cell under the DGCA.
- It was reorganized as an independent department under Civil Aviation Ministry in 1987.
- Its functions include:
- Setting standards for airport and airline operators and their security agencies in the form of Aviation Security Standards in accordance with the ICAO’s Chicago Convention.
- Monitoring the implementation of aviation security regulations.
- Surveying the security needs.
- Ensuring the competencies of those persons implementing the security controls. This is done through surprise or dummy checks and mock exercises to test the operational preparedness, alertness and efficiency of the security personnel and also, efficacy of the Contingency Plans.
- Planning and coordination of security matters in the aviation sector.
- The Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau was made into a separate division under the DGCA in 2012. This was to enable the independence of the investigative function from the regulatory function.
- It is responsible for investigation of all major aviation accidents in India.
- Its functions include:
- Obtaining preliminary report of the accident either through its own officer or through any person authorized by it.
- Assisting the formation of a Committee of Inquiry and Formal investigation.
- Facilitating, whenever necessary, the investigative and administrative works of the Committees and the Courts.
- Processing the reports from these Courts and Committees.
- Following up the recommendations from these Courts and Committees and ensuring their implementation.
- Formulation of safety recommendations based on safety studies. Eg: inducting new technology to improve the safety.
- Maintaining a database of accidents that would enable the detection of any safety deficiencies and to determine whether any preventive actions are required.
- Performing any other function that the centre may require it to undertake under the 2012 Rules.
What is the significance of the Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020?
- The bill gives these regulatory bodies statutory backing. The utility of the step can be seen from the success in case of other such regulatory bodies like IRDAI (Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority) and TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India).
- The issue of conflict of interest between the bodies – such as between the DGCA and AAIB in case of an accident due to regulatory oversight- would be addressed as they become independent.
- The provisions regarding penalties is regarded as a step in the right direction as the industry has grown in volume and diversity, creating a need for a more significant penalty provision to create a deterrence effect.
- The DGCA is an independent body in all developed countries. The amendment bill allows the government to issue directives to these bodies.
- Though it is the government that makes appointments to the DGCA, this provision puts the government in the role of an overseeing authority over these regulatory bodies which may affect their autonomy.
Is Aircraft Act, 1934 obsolete?
- Though it was enacted in the 1930s, it has largely performed its role as an Act (as opposed to a Regulation), according to several experts.
- On the other hand, regulations must flow from the Act to enjoy legal sanctity. Else, it could always be question in a court.
- It has been amended from time-to-time to incorporate the changes to the sector over the years.
- However, it requires expansion as the Act did not envision several aspects like the domestic manufacturing of aircraft.
What can be the way forward?
- There have been only few aviation accidents in India and none of them have been major. However, with the increasing air traffic in India, the regulators must be in top shape to handle any potential crisis.
- There is a need for a ‘passenger-centric’ legislation to direct the civil aviation. The consumer should be able to ‘question and benefit’ and it is the Act that gives this power to the consumer.
- A solid legislation will prevent air carriers and airport operations from functioning arbitrarily.
- There is a need to ensure the commercial viability of the air carriers. Though it is beyond the scope of the bill, it has a great bearing on the safety of air travel. This is because only when the airline is commercially viable will it be able to allocate sufficient resources for ensuring aircraft and passenger safety. Otherwise, the air carrier will either close down or even compromise on safety.
- The civil aviation regulators are facing a number of issues such as scarcity of trained personnel and antiquated training infrastructure and regulatory system. There is a need for upgradation of knowledge. The regulatory agencies haven’t been able to keep up with the speed at which the technology is evolving. Eg: the regulators are yet to possess the infrastructure and competence to analyse a problem such as the one posed by the 737 Max. Many of these issues can be addressed by clearly defining the role of the regulators and giving them adequate independence.
- The manner in which the Boeing 737 Max issue was handled by FAA and EASA shows that India can no longer depend on foreign regulators for directives in aviation safety. The Indian regulators must be empowered to independently analyse and decide on the aircrafts’ safety.
- There is a lack of clarity in various issues in simple issues like who should take responsibility and what should be the compensation for a delayed flight. These need to be addressed.
- The bill should take into account not only the current conditions of the sector but also its future. Eg: India may evolve into a hub for manufacturing aircrafts and its components via the Make in India In such a case, there is a need to identify the authority responsible for regulating its various aspects.
- The ICAO recognized the Indian aviation sector under its ‘no country left behind’ initiative for its progress in resolving deficiencies in terms of safety and effective implementation of various standards. This shows that the bill is a step in the right direction.
The ICAO audit report on Indian aviation sector was not very flattering. The amendment bill is seen as a way to satisfy the audit observations of ICAO. What is needed is to go beyond simply appeasing ICAO and amend the Act to ensure that it addresses pressing issues at present and lays down the foundation for putting in place regulatory framework for future challenges like drone use and domestic manufacturing of aircraft and its parts.
Practice question for mains:
Critically examine the issues faced in regulation of aviation sector in India. (250 words)