Rajya Sabha passed the Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020 on September 15, aims to give the much-needed teeth to some of the government agencies and, thereby. Ensure safety in aviation operations, this is something that has come under spotlight because of the Kozhikode plane crash on August 7, 2020 at Calicut Kerala.

The amendment  is about

The bill, once it clears all the procedures, will convert agencies under the Ministry of Civil Aviation, into statutory bodies. These agencies are Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), Bureau of Civil aviation security (BCAS) and Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB).

A statutory body is one that is backed by a law and has the powers to take penal action.

The Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is an industry regulator, but the changes is the power is needed-

As it could set guidelines and directions to airlines and airport operators. But the legal sanction behind these measures were limited. Sure, the regulator could cancel the license of an airline, or suspend a pilot or engineer, but that may not be the ideal punishment for each and every error.

Kind of penalties can be imposed-

The Bill proposes to increase the fine amount for violations from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 1 crore. With the sanction to give monetary penalties, the DGCA can now have a stricter hold over the industry operations.

The move is related to the amendment in Companies Act, in 2013, that immensely increased the power of SFIO to investigate corporate fraud, says Zulfiquar Memon, Managing Partner at MZM Legal, a legal firm.Till the amendment came in 2013, the Serious Fraud Investigation Office, or SFIO, could investigate and recommend prosecution for white collar crimes. But it could not arrest anyone.

The change in 2013, in the Companies Act, added that much needed power in hands of the SFIO. The Office, of recent, has been in the news for its investigations into IL&FS. Last year, it had arrested Ramesh Bawa, MD & CEO of IL&FS. It is also probing former ICICI Bank chief Chanda Kochhar and her husband Deepak Kochhar.

Now, the DGCA will be strengthened by the amendment in the Aircraft Act that allows the regulator to impose monetary fine. “The change itself will ensure that airlines are more careful,” says Vasanth Rajasekaran, Partner, Phoenix Legal, a legal firm.

Passenger violates the guidelines

The highest fine is of Rs 1 crore. The fine will be graded according to the error and, The Bill is considerate too in another way too.

“There is a provision of compounding of first or rare contraventions of the acts. In other words, if an airline, which is otherwise compliant, commits an error, the DGCA or the other two agencies, can let it pass. The first offence is compoundable. However, the second offence within a space of five years is not compoundable.

Other agencies, AAIB

The bureau will have similar powers. Industry experts are hoping that the Bureau, which is investigating the Air India Express flight crash in Kozhikode that led to the death of 18, will use these powers to come down heavily on those found guilty. Maybe, AAIB will be more independent too but, the amendment in the Aircraft Act also empowers the central government in many ways, including power to constitute the three agencies, to specify their responsibilities. The government can also issue directions to the three agencies and even review, including rescind or modify, their orders.

While this may not amuse safety experts who have been critical of the control that Ministry of Civil Aviation has on these bodies, the amendment will improve India’s safety record.

“The amendment makes provisions for securing the safety of aircraft operations in India and carrying out civil aviation operations as per the internationally accepted standards, procedures and practices as laid down by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).”

ICAO, which is an aviation watchdog, has been critical of the absence of a statutory backing to DGCA and other agencies. This has impacted India’s safety rankings.

As soon as Rajya Sabha session has started this bill was introduced and passed because county was already facing a tough time due to Covid-19 and this  Kozhikote plane crash has given people more pain so this Amendment in Aircraft Act was very necessary.