The Australian and Austrian governments want sky marshals on board their carriers operating flights to India.
A request to this affect has been received by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, which has sought the views of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security — the regulatory authority for civil aviation security in India.
For a sky marshal to be on board, a formal MoU (memorandum of understanding) needs to be signed between two countries as was done by India and the US in January. Sky marshal is an undercover agent on board a commercial aircraft to counter a hijacking.
The two requests received within a span of a month point to apprehensions that western countries might have regarding aviation security in the country, senior civil aviation officials said.
“Strictly speaking, the request do indicate that they think of India as an unsafe destination where security arrangements are not sound enough and loopholes exist,” said A.K. Doval, former director, Intelligence Bureau.
There have been regular intelligence inputs warning of possible attempts to hijack an aircraft ever since an Indian Airlines flight (IC-814) was hijacked by members of Pakistan-based terror groups in 1999.
However, according to experts, the fear is not just limited to India, as has been the case with failed attempt to blow up a US-bound jetliner from Amsterdam on Christmas Day. The bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, had managed to smuggle in explosives inside the aircraft.
“Considering the present global security scenario, apprehensions exist. However, this is a global phenomenon. Aviation is a big chain and we are all part of it. Any weak link can put the entire chain under threat,” said Inderjit Singh, aviation expert.
“Any such request is always based on intelligence alerts of the respective countries. How credible such inputs are cannot be said but this certainly indicates some kind of an input that points to danger to their citizens in South Asia. Personally I feel they are overreacting. There might be some loopholes in the domestic operations but checking for international flights are quite thorough,” Doval said.