The Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020, that seeks to impose a penalty of up to Rs 1 crore for lapses and violation of airline rules and regulations, was passed by the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday.
The Bill 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. It also seeks to converts three existing bodies—the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS), and the Aircraft Accidents Investigation Bureau (AAIB), under the Ministry of Civil Aviation into statutory bodies.
As per the provisions on the Bill, a violation can be punished with up to two years in jail or a fine of up to Rs 10 lakh, or both. Carrying arms, ammunition, and explosives or other banned goods on board, and illegal construction around airports will attract fines up to Rs 10 lakh to Rs 1 crore.
Speaking in the House, civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri said India is the third largest market globally after the United States and China, and is growing rapidly in the aviation sector. At present, there are around 661 aircraft in the sky and the next five years, there will be 1,200.
He said airports in the country had handled nearly 300,000 passengers a day before the pandemic and the numbers are steadily inching towards the half-way mark. He also pointed out that by 2024, nearly 100 new airports will be added to the existing number.
During discussion on the Bill, several MPs appreciated the role of Air India in bringing back Indians stranded abroad during the nationwide lockdown and expressed concerns over the Union government’s bid to sell the public carrier.
Congress’ KC Venugopal raised the issue of privatisation of airports and alleged that several norms were violated in giving airports to a single private entity, the Adani Group. The Congress MP said there is a clear shortage of air traffic controllers, raising the issue of near-misses. His charge was later denied by Puri, who asserted that the vacancies have nearly been filled and the recruitment process had been delayed due to the pandemic.
The minister said privatisation of Delhi and Mumbai airports, that together account for 33% of the air traffic, has resulted in the airports authority receiving about Rs 29,000 crore, which is now being used for the development of other airports.
On the issue of privatisation of Air India, the minister said the carrier is saddled with heavy losses. “…If we could help it, we would keep it with us, but with a Rs 60,000 crore debt, the choice is not between privatisation and non-privatisation. Some of my colleagues must realise that the choice is between privatisation and closing down. We are confident that the airline, in running condition, doing extremely well, will be given to its new owner in order for Air India and its flag to be kept flying,” Puri said.