'Make errant airlines pay' | mumbai | Hindustan Times
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'Make errant airlines pay'

mumbai Updated: Jul 20, 2010 00:45 IST
Soubhik Mitra

While happy with the decision to refuse take-off permission to flights that don't stick to schedule, fliers have demanded that the airlines also be made to compensate them for delays.

A draft policy making it mandatory for tardy airlines to compensate fliers was tabled about a month ago, and the Air Passenger Association of India (APAI) demanded on Monday that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) clear it immediately. Going by procedure, suggestions and objections would have to be invited, after which the draft would go to the Law Ministry for checking. The policy would be enforced only once the Law Ministry clears it.

The APAI demand came soon after Mumbai's Air Traffic Control (ATC) denied take-off clearance to more than 60 flights for late start-ups. It was the first time air traffic managers put an eight-month-old DGCA rule into effect. The rule empowers controllers to temporarily ground a flight if the pilot is not prepared for take-off 15 minutes before the scheduled departure.

"The move will streamline traffic, but ultimately it's the passengers who suffer. It will be more effective if airlines are made to pay compensation for delays," said Milan Zatakia, APAI national vice-president. The passenger body has taken up the matter with the Civil Aviation Ministry and the Ministry of Consumer Affairs.

According to the draft policy, passengers would be eligible for a compensation of Rs 2,000 to Rs 4,000 depending on the delay. On Monday, passengers travelling on flights that were rescheduled because their pilots were not ready on time were stuck inside the aircraft for at least an hour. Those travelling during peak hours were stuck inside for more than two hours. For instance, a 6 am flight that missed its slot was not allowed to take off before 8.30 am.

There have been delays over the past few months because airlines did not stick to schedule. Airport sources told Hindustan Times on condition of anonymity that often airlines would take pushback clearance — the first stage of the take-off procedure — to occupy a slot while passengers were still boarding. However, actual take-off would be well after schedule, thus creating a backlog that was difficult for the airport to manage.

"A flight scheduled to leave at 6 am would start taxiing 30 minutes behind schedule," said a senior airport operations staffer, requesting anonymity as he is not authorised to talk to the media.

As a result, the ATC landed up handling 35 to 40 flight movements an hour whereas its maximum capacity is 30.

"All flights taxi for at least 20 minutes in Mumbai," said Sudhir Baviskar, a tax consultant who flies thrice a week on business.