VIP CUL­TURE — A HAZ­ARD TO AIR SAFETY

Un­ruly pas­sen­gers on­board can be a ma­jor safety haz­ard for the air­craft and its oc­cu­pants

SP's Airbuz - - Finally - — B.K. PANDEY

ON MARCH 23, 2017, the In­dian air­line in­dus­try was trau­ma­tised with an in­ci­dent that can be de­scribed not only as bizarre, but one that has se­ri­ous im­pli­ca­tions for the safety of pas­sen­gers and crew on­board an air­liner. Ravin­dra Gaik­wad, a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment (MP) from Shiv Sena, took um­brage to the fact that he was com­pelled to sit in econ­omy class while fly­ing on­board an Air In­dia flight AI 852 from Pune to New Delhi even though he was hold­ing a busi­ness class ticket and en­joyed VIP sta­tus. Af­ter land­ing at the Indira Gandhi In­ter­na­tional Air­port (IGIA) at Delhi at around 1030 hours, the MP re­fused to get off the plane and re­sorted to a sort of dharna inside the air­craft cre­at­ing a prob­lem for the air­line staff who were re­quired to pre­pare the air­craft for on­ward flight to Goa. The staff of Air In­dia were help­less in the mat­ter raised by the MP as the Pune-Delhi flight was op­er­ated as an all-econ­omy class flight with­out busi­ness class. Thus there was no way the de­mand of the VIP could have been met with by the crew. Af­ter ar­rival at Delhi, when the Air In­dia Duty Man­ager at IGIA in­ter­vened and tried to con­vince the VIP to de­plane, in­stead of ac­qui­esc­ing to the re­quest, the VIP re­port­edly flared up and thrashed the 60-year-old Duty Man­ager with his san­dals, tore his shirt, broke his glasses and even tried to push him out of the air­craft.

The con­duct of the MP was not only un­be­com­ing of a gen­tle­man, ir­re­spon­si­ble and de­plorable; but was of a na­ture that is not ex­pected of a VIP and es­pe­cially an MP who is a part of the law-mak­ing body of the na­tion. What is even more dis­con­cert­ing is the fact in the case of this par­tic­u­lar VIP, this sort of be­hav­iour was not new as he has been in­volved in sim­i­lar mis­con­duct on the ground on ear­lier oc­ca­sions. To that ex­tent, he ap­pears to have main­tained re­mark­able con­sis­tency in the pat­tern of his public con­duct.

As the con­duct of the MP on­board the Air In­dia air­craft was clearly in the na­ture of a crim­i­nal of­fence, the na­tional car­rier rightly filed an FIR with the po­lice. Un­for­tu­nately, the law en­forc­ing agen­cies do not ap­pear to have the free­dom to act against law­mak­ers with the same vigour and ur­gency that they do against the com­mon man. The Speaker of the Lok Sabha voiced dis­ap­proval of the con­duct of the MP and said, “No one is al­lowed to mis­be­have with any­one, even if he is an MP.” How­ever, when asked whether any ac­tion could be taken against the of­fender, she said “I can­not take suo motu ac­tion as the in­ci­dent had taken place out­side Par­lia­ment.” Re­gret­tably, the party to which the of­fender be­longs is likely to sup­port his ac­tion of man­han­dling the Air In­dia staff.

But what is en­cour­ag­ing and re­mark­able is the unity dis­played by the In­dian car­ri­ers in plac­ing the of­fend­ing MP on the “no-fly list”. This prac­tice is fol­lowed in some coun­tries wherein ha­bit­ual of­fend­ers are de­nied tick­ets for air travel. While this de­ci­sion has been en­dorsed by the Fed­er­a­tion of In­dian Air­lines, there is a lurk­ing doubt in some quar­ters about the le­gal­ity of the move. For­tu­nately, the Min­is­ter of Civil Avi­a­tion has dis­ap­proved of the MP’s con­duct and has re­fused to in­ter­fere with the ac­tion taken by the air­lines against the of­fender.

Apart from the men­ace of VIP cul­ture in the coun­try, this par­tic­u­lar episode is of rel­e­vance for the Min­istry of Civil Avi­a­tion, the Di­rec­torate Gen­eral of Civil Avi­a­tion, the air­lines and the trav­el­ling public. This was ex­plic­itly stated by the Min­is­ter of State for Civil Avi­a­tion Jayant Sinha who said that un­ruly pas­sen­gers can cre­ate se­ri­ous prob­lems in flight. He said: “Af­ter all, when you are fly­ing at 30,000 feet, you are in a very frag­ile en­vi­ron­ment”. Un­ruly pas­sen­gers on­board can be a ma­jor safety haz­ard for the air­craft and its oc­cu­pants. Imag­ine a sit­u­a­tion wherein a VIP of un­sta­ble mind bull­dozes the cabin crew and barges into the cock­pit in flight and as­saults or in­flicts se­ri­ous in­jury to the pilots. The con­se­quences of such con­duct could be hor­ren­dous.

How­ever, it is grat­i­fy­ing to note that at least the In­dian air­line in­dus­try has fi­nally un­der­stood the im­pli­ca­tions of the episode of dis­grace­ful con­duct of the MP on March 23 and has acted to con­trol the men­ace of mis­guided and po­ten­tially haz­ardous VIP cul­ture that could se­ri­ously com­pro­mise air safety.

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