U.S. bans Air India’s ground handling

U.S. bans Air India’s ground handling

National carrier says order will not affect it operations in the five airports it flies to now

The United States has banned Air India from carrying out ground handling operations on its own at all five airports in the country connected by the airline. The decision is not expected to affect the national carrier’s operations.

On July 30, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) served an order amending Air India’s foreign air carrier permit, which now reads, “the holder may not perform its own ground-handling functions (self-handle) in the United States”.

Ministry for talks

The DoT had on April 19 issued a show-cause notice warning that it may impose a ban on self-handling by Indian carriers because of India’s failure to allow U.S. carriers to “exercise their bilateral right to perform their own ground handling (to “self-handle”) at Indian airports”.

Though India did not inform the U.S. on how it would address these concerns, the Civil Aviation Ministry sought discussions on the matter in a letter dated May 9, the order notes.

U.S. bans Air India’s ground handling

Air India flies to San Francisco, Washington, New York, Newark, and Chicago.

“This will not affect any of our flights because we outsource ground handling services at most international stations through a transparent bidding process,” an Air India official said. Ground handling includes boarding, baggage handling, refuelling, and catering.

The problem between the two countries over the issue of ground-handling surfaced after India amended its ground handling regulation in 2017, barring all foreign airlines from conducting self handling at defence airports. The rules also prevent international carriers from carrying out these functions beyond the security hold area at airports where passengers undergo frisking.

2005 agreement

These regulations however, disregarded the Air Service Agreement signed between the two countries in 2005. As per the agreement, “each designated airline shall have the right to perform its own ground-handling in the territory of the other Party (self-handling), or, at its option, select among competing agents for such services in whole or in part. The right shall be subject only to physical constraints resulting from considerations of airport safety.”

A senior official of the Civil Aviation Ministry had earlier said it was working with the External Affairs Ministry to address these “aberrations”. The official, however, did not comment on the latest U.S. order.

All U.S. carriers flying into India have outsourced their ground handling as well.

While the order will not affect Air India’s operation, which uses local ground handlers in the U.S., it puts a further strain on Indo-U.S. trade ties, that have reached an impasse in the past few months.

Officials have been working on resolving a series of issues, including tariffs and counter-measures, Washington’s concerns over India’s data protection laws, and other issues that led to trade talks collapsing last November.

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