Anybody who has taken a flight recently would agree that an urgent solution had to be found to address the mounting congestion and chaos at our airports, which are ‘international’ only in nomenclature. But the response of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the official regulator of the recently-liberated civil aviation industry, borders on the bizarre. The DGCA plans to force airlines to stick to their schedules and reduce pain for passengers, by the simple expedient of punishing the passengers! They don’t quite put it that way, of course, but the end result is going to be precisely that. The DGCA proposes to push airlines which miss their schedules to the end of the queue. DGCA hopes that errant airlines will mend their ways, since hundreds of hapless passengers will avoid them in the future.
Like many proposals of that other visionary reformer, the late Muhammad bin Tughlaq, the approach sounds fairly logical. It is in the execution that complications arise. Tughlaq introduced token coinage, by now a universal practice, but one which nearly caused the economic collapse of the Delhi Sultanate in the 14th century, when people tended to prefer real gold and silver. He decided to shift his capital from Delhi to Daulatabad to make it more difficult for invaders. Another capital idea, but one that left the northern gateway wide open for the Mongol army.
DGCA’s approach is Tughlaqesque in its complexity. We fail to understand why the DGCA did not consider the alternative option: of directly inflicting this financial burden on chronic late Latifs. They could simply fine airlines heavily for delaying flights. Airline CEOs would have found this item difficult to explain away to shareholders and investors. If airlines attempt to pass this cost on to passengers, those who manage to stick to schedules would get a competitive advantage, and market forces, hopefully, would take care of the rest. The latest move only underscores the crying need for a thorough overhaul and professionalisation of DGCA’s regulatory mechanism.