Amendments to the Aircraft Law in India

Recently, the government has passed the Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which has now got the assent from the President of India on 19 September 2020 to take the shape of the Aircraft (Amendment) Act 2020 (“Amendment Act”). The Amendment Act seeks to amend the Aircraft Act 1934 (“Aircraft Act”) and was introduced in Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Parliament) by Shri Hardeep Singh Puri, Minister of Civil Aviation on 04 February 2020. The Aircraft Act is a legislation to regulate the manufacturing, possession, use, operation, sale, import and export of civil aircraft and licensing of aerodromes. 

Key provisions of the Amendment Act are as follows: 

Constitution of statutory authorities:  The Act seeks to grant a status of statutory body to three existing authorities functioning under the Ministry of Civil Aviation (“Civil Aviation Ministry”).   Each of these authorities will be headed by a Director General who will be appointed by the central government. These three authorities are: 

(i) the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA);

(ii) the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS); and 

(iii)  the Aircraft Accidents Investigation Bureau (AAIB).  

Functions of the authorities under the Aviation Act:

  • DGCA: safety oversight and regulatory functions with respect to matters under the Amendment Act.
  • BCAS: regulatory oversight functions related to civil aviation security. (iii) AAIB: investigations related to aircraft accidents and incidents.  

The central government may issue directions to these authorities on matters related to their functions, if considered necessary in the public interest. 

Power to frame rules:

According to the Aircraft Act, the central government may make rules on several matters such as

  • registration of aircraft,
  • regulating air transport services, and
  • prohibition of flight over any specified area.

The Amendment Act has added another category to the list i.e. “the regulation of air navigation services”. The Amendment Act also allows the government to empower the Director General of BCAS/ authorized officer to issue directions and make rules on the below mentioned matters :

  • conditions under which an aircraft may be flown,
  • inspection of aircraft, and
  • measures to safeguard civil aviation against acts of unlawful interference.

Appointment of adjudicating officers:

The Amendment Act also provides for the appointment of designated officers (not below the rank of Deputy Secretary) to adjudicate penalties under the Amendment Act.  A person who is aggrieved by an order of a designated officer may appeal to an appellate officer.  Appeals must be filed by the aggrieved person within 30 days from the day the order is received.   

Penal Consequences:

According to the Aircraft Act, the penalty prescribed for various offences is imprisonment of up to two years, or a fine of up to INR 10 lakh, or both.  These offences include: 

  • carrying arms, explosives, or other dangerous goods aboard aircraft,
  • contravening any rules notified under the Act, and
  • constructing building or structures within the specified radius around an aerodrome reference point.

The Amendment Act has raises the maximum threshold on fines for all these offences from INR 10 lakh to INR one crore. Further, the central government also get powers to cancel the licenses, certificates, or approvals granted to a person under the Aircraft Act, if the person contravenes any provision of the Aircraft Act. Such licenses include those given for: (i) the establishment of an air transport service, (ii) the establishment of aerodromes, and (iii) the operation, repair, and maintenance of aircraft.

Compounding of offences:

The Amendment Act, allows for the compounding of certain offences under the Aircraft Act or rules under the Act.  These include: (i) flying to cause danger to any person or property and (ii) the contravention of any directions issued by the Director General of any of the three bodies.  Offences may be compounded by the Director Generals as prescribed by the central government. Further, compounding of offences is not allowed in case of repeat offences.

Cognizance of offences:

Courts will not take cognizance of any offence under the Aircraft Act, unless a complaint is made by Director General of Civil Aviation, BCAS, or AAIB.  Only courts equivalent or superior to a Metropolitan Magistrate or a Magistrate of the first class may try offences under the Aircraft Act. 

Exemption to Armed Forces:

Aircraft belonging to the naval, military, or air forces of the Union are exempted from the provisions of the Aircraft Act.  The Amendment Act expands this exemption to include aircraft belonging to any other armed forces of the Union.  

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