The Airports Authority of India (AAI) cannot hold an Irish aircraft owner responsible for airport dues not paid by the defunct East West (EW) Airlines, the Bombay high court ruled on Wednesday.
The court was hearing a petition filed by Aer Lingus Limited in 1996 challenging the illegal detention by AAI of two Boeing 737-200 aircraft leased to East West in November 1992.
Aer Lingus terminated its agreement with EW in July 1996. In October, the EW returned the aircraft. When Aer Lingus tried to take the aircraft out of the country, AAI raised an objection.
As an interim relief, the high court allowed Aer Lingus to fly the aircraft out of India subject to a bank guarantee.
On Wednesday, when Aer Lingus’s petition came up for final hearing, AAI argued that for the service provided to the aircraft, charges could be recovered by detaining the same.
Senior advocate Venkatesh Dhond for Aer Lingus argued that charges for recovery of airport dues are for services rendered by AAI while the aircraft was on lease with EW and hence liability shall be of EW alone.
The court said because of the failure of AAI to recover dues from EW, the owner would not be liable to pay.
The court said: “Owner can be made liable to pay AAI only if there is a contract between the owner and AAI or a law which obliges the owner to pay charges… and in this case, there is no such contract nor law which has been pointed out.”