//Giving wings to air passengers

Giving wings to air passengers

[ Friday, March 03, 2006 09:34:33 pmTIMES NEWS NETWORK ]

MUMBAI: In the near future, air passengers from India may find themselves armed with rights on the lines of the European Union norms,which force airlines to pay compensation to travellers affected by delays, over bookings or cancellations.

The Air Passengers’ Association of India (APAI) has drafted guidelines to provide passengers with legal rights and will soon push for its legislation. "The matter will be taken to the consumer affairs ministry and the parliament so that it is made into a law with enough teeth to enable them to fight for their rights," said D Sudhakara Reddy, president of APAI. He added that the final draft will be ready by April end.

 Last year, EU had provided a moral and monetary boost to air travellers within its 25-member union by formulating laws which held airlines accountable for delays, cancellations etc. As per the EU norms, passengers can claim compensation of anything between 250 Euros and 600 Euros, depending on the length of flights delayed/cancelled etc. The norms also made it mandatory for the airlines to provide passengers with hotel accommodation, phone bill charges, food etc during delays/cancellations. "We will also be formulating specific rules which state the compensation quantum depending on the duration of the flight," Reddy added.

Stiff opposition, like the kind seen in Europe, is expected from the Indian airline operators’ lobby. "But the booming aviation scene will only help enforce the need for such norms for Indian air passengers," said Reddy. Moreover, he added, the APAI in the last one decade was instrumental in bringing about some significant changes in the Indian aviation sector.
For instance, effecting the formation of Bureau of Civil Aviation Security to handle security-related matters.

Before the bureau was formed aviation security was handled by the local police. "In European airports, the rights of air passengers have been prominently displayed on boards.

We need to create awareness at that level here," said Reddy. On the need to increase aviation safety, Reddy said it was mentioned in the parliament last week by civil aviation minister Praful Patel that as many as 21 air miss incidents occurred in 2005.

He said airports in the country lacked the basic tools to deal with emergencies and cited the example of a tyre burst in Patna airport.

 "They did not even have the basic spanner and other tools to handle the situation," Reddy said.

The APAI would also be taking up other issues like mandatory check for foreign pilots who are inducted by airlines in India, upgrading the communication systems for better air safety, mandatory medical tests for air traffic controllers and engineers and a strict check to ensure that airlines are not overworking their pilots.