India to tweak ground handling rules for foreign airlines

Ground handling rules for foreign airlines in India will be tweaked before Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to meet U.S. President Donald Trump twice in a week. The move is being seen as more of a pacifier to the U.S. for future discussions. The move could allow foreign airlines security functions within ground handling operations.

In July, Air India was barred from performing ground operation in the U.S. The Hindu quoted PS Kharola, Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation as saying: “We are adjusting ground handling rules and devising a mechanism to attempt to address their concerns without compromising security.”

Air India is the only Indian carrier that currently flies to the U.S. As both the countries do not ‘self-handle’ in each other’s land, the tussle is being seen more as an assertion of a right that the US would like to retain, rather than about using it.

A special privilege will be allowed to those countries with whom India has an air services agreement to perform ground operations. More security and scrutiny measures would be put in place for the staff of these airlines.

However, a cabinet nod will be needed to allow the ground handling by foreign airlines as certain clauses of ground handling rules (of Airport Authority of India) will have to be modified. Currently, it bars foreign airlines to carry out security functions within ground handling services.

What led to this?

On July 30, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an order amending Air India’s foreign air carrier permit, and barring it from performing its own ground-handling functions in the U.S., after India failed to allow U.S. airlines to exercise their bilateral right to perform their own ground handling (to ‘self-handle’) at Indian airports.

What’s next?

The amendment will provide relief to two other countries with which India has an air services agreement on ground handling – Australia and Canada. The restriction on security functions will continue to apply to foreign airlines of other countries.

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