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Aircraft Laws in India

The Aircraft Act of 1934 is a crucial piece of legislation governing Aviation laws in India. Aviation laws refer to a wide array of legal studies around Air travel, Military Aviation, Aircraft, passenger safety regulations, business transactions, and deals. Therefore, it is widely acknowledged that a nation with robust aviation laws has the capacity to have strong laws and regulations that steer the aviation industry in the proper path.

Various International norms and regulations operate globally to facilitate safe air travel such as the International Civil Aviation (also known as the Chicago Convention) signed in 1944, The Tokyo Convention in 1963, and The Hague Hijacking Convention among others. The International Civil Aviation Convention or Chicago Convention is a source of crucial laws administering various aspects of Aircraft registration, security, safety, rules on taxation, and aviation rights of the signing members.

The Chicago Convention had initially established PICAO (Provisional International Civil Aviation Organization) which was soon replaced by ICAO in 1947. ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) is an international agency of the United Nations and governs and facilitates various principles relating to Air transport. Thus ICAO is a critical international agency governing Aviation framework globally.

In India, The Ministry of Civil Aviation is a nodal ministry that frames laws, regulations, and policies about Civil aviation and air transport. Several authorities are working under the ministry such as the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), The Airports Authority of India (AAI) , and The Airport Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA) among others. The Civil Aviation laws in India cover a wide compass of regulatory laws including The Aircrafts Act, of 1934, considered to be the principal legislation for governing the manufacture, possession, use, operation, sale, import, and export of aircraft since British India.

Since then several amendments have been made in the act to meet modern-day needs and to tackle the deficiencies or drawbacks where one such vital amendment was made via the Aircraft Amendment Act, of 2020. Further, The Ministry of Civil Aviation proposed the Draft Aircraft Bill, 2023 on 30th May 2023 for pre-legislative consultation to make new additions to the existing laws and systematically present the framework. On the approval of the legislation, the bill shall soon repeal The Aircrafts Act, of 1934.

The Aircraft Act, 1934

The first commercial flight in India departed on 18th February 1911 from Allahabad to Naini. The flight carried 6,500 pieces of mail and was known to be the first official Airmail transport service in India. The flights in India at the time functioned as air transport facilities for convenient and instant mail transfers called as Airmail. In 1932 J.R.D Tata founded an airline specifically for Airmail services which today is called Air India. During the period there were not many legal frameworks in place to regulate the Aviation sector in India. "Indian Airships Act 1911" was the first piece of legislation that was passed in British India to administer and regulate Air laws.

Further In the year 1919, India ratified the International Convention for Regulation of Aerial Navigation also known as the Paris Convention of 1919. However, India failed to meet its assented obligations of the convention with the Indian Airships Act 1911 and desired legislation with more emphasis and powers in the hands of the government. As a result, Indian Aircrafts Act 1934 was passed on 19th August 1934 repealing Indian Airships Act 1911. Thus Indian Aircrafts Act 1934 is a vital legislation aimed at meeting international norms and advanced laws with inclusivity for government and statutory powers. Later through the Aircraft Amendment Act 1960 the word Indian was removed from the title of the act and the Act is thereafter referred to as "The Aircrafts Act 1934".

The Aircrafts Act of 1934 was formulated to provide better provisions for the control of the manufacture, possession, use, operation, sale, import, and export of aircraft. The act was considered to be a primary piece of legislation after the Indian Airships Act of 1911 during the British rule of India. Since then the Act has been considered to be a vital law of great importance in the Aviation sector . One of the key highlights is section 4 of The Aircrafts Act 1934, which gives the Central government the powers to implement the rules to meet the obligations under the Convention of 1944. Thus the act is reformative and competent to meet the international norms and obligations.

The Aircrafts Act 1934 also makes provisions for allocations of certain powers to The Director-General of Civil Aviation under sections 4A and 5A of the Act. The Director-General of Civil Aviation, duly appointed by the government is a statutory body established under the act to hold special powers to perform Safety oversight functions and issue directions consistent with the provisions of the Act.

In the case of Jt.Action Commit. Of Airlines ... vs Director General of Civil Aviation (Civil Appeal No3844 of 2011) Jt_Action_Commit_Of_Airlines_vs_Director_General_Of_Civil_on_3_May_2011.PDF , the power of the Director General of Civil Aviation to suspend the rules were challenged before the Supreme Court of India. The DGCA had suspended the Civil Aviation Requirements (CAR 2007) because it suggested unreasonable rest periods for pilots and then revived the old AIC framework temporarily. The same stand contended by the Joint Action Committee because AIC which initially stands obliterated by CAR 2007 cannot be simply revived by the DGCA.

The Supreme Court upheld the view of the High court while formulating the final judgement that only the statutory body shall have certain powers to fulfil its functions and shall not be subjected to interference by Superior Authority.

The Act ensures proper allocation of power in the hands of the government. Under the Provisions of The Aircrafts Act 1934, the government reserves certain powers such as the power to make rules, issue directions, exempt or detain aircraft, power to make emergency orders, rules for investigation of accidents, and prohibit or regulate certain construction activities.

In the case of M/S Indian Oil Corporation vs M/S NEPC India Ltd (Appeal (crl.) 834 of 2002) M_S_Indian_Oil_Corporation_vs_M_S_Nepc_India_Ltd_Ors_on_20_July_2006.PDF , the right of the DGCA to detain the aircraft has been discussed. The dispute lies between Indian Oil Corporation and NEPC limited for breach of Hypothecation deed which aroused due to the non-payment of dues by the NPEC for purchase of Aircraft fuel from IOC. This gives IOC the right to claim the possession of the Aircrafts and file application for mandatory injunction before the Madras High court to maintain the status quo.

The DGCA was then directed to detain the aircrafts within the powers conferred under section 8 of the Aircrafts Act ,1934 which was also acknowledged by the Supreme court of India while deciding the merits of the case in order to safeguard rights of the IOC.

The Aircraft (Amendment) Act, 2020:

After several amendments in the act, The Aircraft ( Amendment ) Act, 2020 brought significant changes and additions to the act. We shall see some of the key changes in the Amendment Act of 2020.

Statutory Bodies:
The Aircraft ( Amendment ) Act, 2020 established three statutory bodies under the act to ease the process of regulating the laws and provisions in the Act. The bodies introduced by the amendment are namely "Directorate General of Civil Aviation" headed by the "Director General of Civil Aviation" along with "The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security", headed by the "Director General of Bureau of Civil Aviation Security" to look after the Safety and security concerns and carry out oversight functions and "The Aircraft Accidents Investigation Bureau", which is headed by an officer designated as the "Director General of Aircraft Accidents Investigation Bureau" to investigate accidents relating to aircraft.

Composition of Offences:
Insertion of section 12A by the Amendment deals with the composition of the offenses by the Director General of Civil Aviation, Director General of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, and Director General of Aircraft Accidents Investigation Bureau. These officers are assigned with the power to compound the offenses either before or after the institution of the proceedings. The offenses under specific provisions of the 1934 Act can be compounded by the said officers as per the rules made by the central government and are subjected to the supervision of the Government.

Increased penalty charges:
One of the major changes brought by the amendment is the substitution of ten lakh rupees by one crore rupees at all places. Ten lakh rupees was the initial sum charged as penalties which was later increased to one crore by The Aircraft ( Amendment ) Act, 2020.

The Draft Aircraft Bill, 2023
The Ministry of Civil Aviation on 30th May 2023 proposed the Draft Aircraft Bill, 2023 for pre-legislative consultation. The Draft has been formulated in such a way as to provide a legal framework with existing laws under the Aircraft Act 1934 along with other Amendments and additions to meet the redundancies in a simplified manner.

Essential Components
Statutory Bodies
The three Statutory Bodies namely "The Directorate General of Civil Aviation", "The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security" and "The Aircraft Accidents Investigation Bureau" shall continue to discharge their essential services and meet the assigned obligations under the new bill. The "Directorate General of Civil Aviation and "The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security" shall regulate the functions of safety oversight and look after safety concerns along with the "Aircraft Accidents Investigation Bureau" to look into the matters of investigation of accidents.

Power to make Rules:
One of the key facets of the bill is that it shall confer the government with certain powers to regulate and meet the objectives of the Act . The Government shall also have powers to make rules to ensure the safety, operation, and efficient functioning of the air services.
  • Aircraft: The Government shall have the power to make rules for the registration and marking of the aircraft. It also states the conditions under which the aircraft shall fly and the conditions to be adhered to meet the safety of the passengers. The Aircraft must be authorized to provide its services by obtaining the Licence, Certificate, and other required documents. The Govt shall also make rules regarding the Inspection of the Aircraft at appropriate times to ensure compliance.
  • Aerodrome: The Government along with the aircraft shall also make rules for issuing licenses to the Aerodrome along with Inspection, regulation, and Conditions for maintenance. The Government strictly prohibits slaughtering animals or leaving filth and obnoxious matters within a 10 km radius of an aerodrome reference point. In simple words, the Aerodrome reference point refers to the geometric center of all the runways. The bill inserts provisions for regulating Obstruction Limiting Surfaces (OLS) around the Aerodrome. Obstruction Limiting Surfaces (OLS) refers to airspace around the aerodrome to be free of any kind of obstruction for free passage as well as safety of the aircraft.
  • Air route: The government fulfills its supervisory functions while making rules for the conditions under which aircraft shall come and leave India. Similarly, certain rules prohibit aircraft from flying over a specified area. The government shall closely supervise the air route activities and ensure availability of proper beacons and headlights around the aerodrome as well as in the neighborhood of the air route.
  • Economic regulation: The government from time to time as required notify by making rules about the tariffs on the operators of air services and also delegate the authorities for exercising the powers and the procedures for the same.
  • Licensing and Certification: Along with licensing and certification of aircraft and aerodromes, it is also essential to look after the licensing and certification of the personnel involved in operating and regulating aircraft as well as air traffic controls. Newly-made amendments in the bill suggest that government authorities make rules for the certification and licensing of personnel engaged in the operation of radiotelephone or telegraph who provide essential services in operating the aircraft.
  • Other regulations: Apart from the above-mentioned key areas, the government shall make rules for several other crucial aspects such as manner and conditions for issue or renewal of license as well as examinations and fees for obtaining the license. Rules about the equipment to be carried on the flight for safety concerns along with things that are prohibited to be carried on a flight. Rules regarding signals for communication with the flight and other things become matters of great concern for the government while formulating rules.

Special Regulation
Section 16 of the bill confers powers to the Government to prohibit or regulate the construction of buildings or structures and the planting of trees within a radius of 20 km from the Aerodrome reference point. The Government by notification shall specify the height of the building or trees within a 20km radius around the reference point ensuring clear passage for Aircraft to take off and land. The Government shall restrict the construction of buildings within the radius or plant trees if it is expected to grow beyond the permissible height.

The structures or trees surpassing the specified limit shall be directed to be demolished or cut down respectively. For such demolition, notice shall be sent to the owner or the adult male member of the owner's family or affixed at the outer door of the house or a conspicuous part of the house or sent by post.

For Contravention of the rules made by the government penalties shall be imposed under the provisions of the draft bill. Penalties shall be imposed for flying the aircraft to cause danger to life and property and non-compliance with the directions issued under sec 8. Any person failing to demolish any construction within the period mentioned in the notification as per section 16 shall also be liable for imprisonment for 2 years or a fine of Rs 1 crore. Any person who tries for abetment of an offense or attempting an offense shall also be held liable for penalty under the said offense.

Central Government shall also have the power to make rules for Investigation of the accidents occurring during or out of the course of Navigation. They cover accidents that happen In or over India or anywhere outside the country for the aircraft that is registered in India. The person shall notify the appropriate authorities of the accident. All the laws in force shall be used to investigate the matter and the officers shall also have access to proper examination and take necessary measures during the investigation. They shall also hold the power to suspend or cancel the license if required to do so.

Additional Features
The Bill ensures new additions in comparison to existing laws to meet the redundancies and provide a systematic framework. Some of the key additions made in the bill are as follows;

Adjudication & Appeals
Sections 28 and 29 of the Bill provide additional provisions for adjudication and Appeal respectively for imposing the penalties under the Act. Government shall appoint officers to adjudicate the matters over the imposition of penalty and also state their jurisdiction of practice. The officer shall impose a penalty on persons if satisfied with the contravention or noncompliance of the provisions. The parties should also be given a fair chance to be heard.

Appeal from these orders shall lie before the next officer of a higher rank to the officer who passed the order also known as the 1st Appellate officer. The appeal from those orders of the 1st appellate officer shall further lie before the officer of a higher rank known as the 2nd Appellate officer. However where an appeal arises against an order of the "Directorate General of Civil Aviation and "The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security" and "The Aircraft Accidents Investigation Bureau" shall only lie before the Central Government. An appeal should be filed within 30 days of the passing of the order.

Power to Delegate
The Central Government shall also have the power to delegate its powers to the earlier mentioned statutory bodies except the power to make rules which shall only be exercisable by the Central Government.

With changing times the laws adapt, change, and evolve themselves to meet the shifting demands and advancement around the world. The Aircraft Act 1934 is one of those laws that have been governing and regulating the major aspect of the Civil Aviation laws in the country since pre-independence. Thus the Draft Aircraft Bill,2023 by The Ministry of Civil Aviation connotes the idea to address the needs and requirements in formulating the framework and giving a fresh outlook to the Act. The initiative's progress depends on how well it tackles issues concerning safety, precautions, and regulations for the general public along with its aim for long-term growth of India's civil aviation industry.

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