India is set to amend its ground handling regulations for foreign airlines to pacify the U.S., which is[row][third_paragraph] Left Side Content [/third_paragraph][third_paragraph] Middle Content [/third_paragraph][third_paragraph] Right Side Content [/third_paragraph][/row] a retaliatory action recently barred Air India from performing ground operations on its own at American airports. What is Ground handling?
Importance of Ground handling for security
Ground handlers, also known as ground handling staff, are employees of airline companies or airports who load and unload baggage and freight, as well as perform various odd jobs to prepare planes for flight. They provide a variety of services such as check-in, boarding, ramp handling, maintenance, cleaning, catering, fuelling, etc.
So, what is the issue?
- According to data tabled in the Parliament in 2018, 27 security lapses were reported to the Bureau of Civil Aviation over the last three years.
- Lessons learned over the years from within the country and abroad make us realize the importance of well-fortified airports.
- A major example is the security lapse of 9/11 which occurred despite the International Civil Aviation Organisation’s (ICAO) warning on poor security in the US domestic aviation sector.
- The hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu, Flight 814, commonly known as IC 814, in 1999 was our country’s last major aviation security lapse.
- Since then India has worked on strengthening its airport security a lot.
- CISF was asked to replace the state police forces to professionalize aviation security functions.
- However, instances of smuggling of currencies and gold at major airports are being consistently reported with airport staff themselves being accomplices in some cases.
- One of the major activities that have a bearing on aviation security is Ground Handling (GH), as it involves a large number of workers both skilled and unskilled to enter airport and aircraft for cleaning, cargo, and baggage handling and similar functions.
- Airlines want ground handling activity to be done very quickly and cheaply for better turnaround.
- Quick and quality ground handling is important for not just airlines and airports due to efficiency and passenger comfort considerations, but also for the government and the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) from a safety and security perspective.
- Global aviation bodies such as ICAO, IATA and Airports Council International are working on model guidelines on Ground Handling as they feel that it is a complex web of activities which needs strong safety and security oversight.
- According to them, GH activities need a proper legal framework with licensing and certification along with a safety management system with responsibility and liability allocated to the airport operator, aircraft operator, and GH service provider.
What lies ahead?
- The problem between the two countries over the issue of ground-handling surfaced after India amended its ground handling regulation in 2017, in accordance with the National Civil Aviation Policy (NCAP) barring all foreign airlines from carrying out "self-handling" at any domestic airport.
- Besides, a ground handling agency, with foreign ownership of 50% or more of its paid-up capital, has been barred from carrying out ground handling at civil enclaves or joint user defense airfields.
- Generally, civil enclaves are airports belonging to the armed forces where civilian aircraft operations are allowed.
- However, all domestic scheduled airline operators, including helicopter service providers would be allowed to do self-handling at airports, including the civil enclaves.
- These regulations are in violation of the Air Service Agreement signed between the two countries in 2005.
- As per the 2005 agreement, “each designated airline shall have the right to perform its own ground-handling in the territory of the other Party (self-handling), or, at its option, select among competing agents for such services in whole or in part. The right shall be subject only to physical constraints resulting from considerations of airport safety.”
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- While the order will not affect Air India’s operation, which uses local ground handlers in the U.S., it puts a further strain on Indo-U.S. trade ties, that have reached an impasse in the past few months.
- The civil aviation ministry will be seeking an in-principle approval from the Union Cabinet before moving to modify the clause in the Airports Authority of India (Ground Handling Services Regulations), 2018, which forbids foreign airlines from carrying out security functions within ground handling services, as the issue pertains to national security.