The Aircraft Bill, 2023 is a proposed new legislation governing aviation in India and once passed, would repeal the existing Aircraft Act, 1934 which currently regulates and control the aviation sector in India.
Presently, the Aircraft Act, 1934 is the principal law governing civil aviation in India and since 1934 has been amended several times to make better provision for the control of the manufacture, possession, use, operation, sale, import, export of aircraft. The Ministry of Civil Aviation in India is the nodal ministry responsible for the formulation of national policies and programmes for the development and regulation of civil aviation in India. The Ministry of Civil Aviation also administers the implementation of the Aircraft Act, 1934, Aircraft Rules, 1937 besides other enactments.
Recently the Ministry of Civil Aviation reviewed the existing Aircraft Act, 1934 and come out with a draft bill titled Aircraft Bill, 2023 for repeal of the Aircraft Act, 1934 and simplifying the regulations pertaining to the aviation sector, identifying existing redundancies and to provide for provisions to meet the current needs for regulation of civil aviation in a simplified language.
The main features of the Aircraft Bill, 2023 are as under:
(i) Comprehensive coverage: The Aircraft Bill, 2023 covers a wider range of topics than the Aircraft Act, 1934 and contains 39 Sections in contrast to 20 Sections under the Aircraft Act, 1934. While the Aircraft Act, 1934 was enacted to control of the manufacture, possession, use, operation, sale, import and export of aircraft, as per the preamble of the Bill, the Aircraft Bill, 2023 is stated to be enacted to make better provisions for regulation and control of the design, manufacture, possession, use, operation, sale, import and export of aircraft and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto, and to remove the redundancies in the Aircraft Act, 1934
(ii) Definition of Aircraft- Under the Aircraft Bill, 2023, the definition of aircraft means any machine which can derive support in the atmosphere from reactions of the air, other than reactions of the air. The draft Bill defines aircraft widely and deletes specific inclusion of balloons whether fixed or free, airships, kites, gliders and flying machines from the definition of aircraft as contained in the Aircraft Act, 1934.
(ii) Creation of statutory bodies: Sections 3 to 5 of the Aircraft Bill, 2023 make provisions for creation of Statutory bodies namely,
(a)The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) for carrying out the safety oversight and regulatory functions;
(b) Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) for carrying out the regulatory and oversight functions in respect of matters relating to civil aviation security and;
(c) The Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau is an attached office of the Govt of India, Ministry of Civil Aviation. AAIB processes the obligations of the Indian Government under Annex 13 to the Convention on International Civil Aviation signed at Chicago on the December 7, 1944 as amended from time to time.
(iii) Strengthened DGCA: The Aircraft Bill, 2023 gives the DGCA more powers to regulate the civil aviation sector. This includes the power to carrying out the safety oversight and regulatory functions including to issue and revoke licenses, carry out inspections, and impose penalties.
(iv) Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau: The Aircraft Bill, 2023 provides a specialized body called the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB) to investigate accidents and incidents involving aircraft. The AAIB is responsible for classification of “Safety Occurrences” involving aircraft operating in the Indian Airspace into Accidents, Serious Incidents and Incidents. All Accidents and Serious Incidents involving aircraft with AUW more than 2250 Kgs are investigated by AAIB. AAIB may investigate accidents or incidents to aircraft apart from the ones mentioned above if it appears expedient to hold an investigation into the circumstances of such accident or incident. The AAIB will be independent of the DGCA and will have the power to access any information it needs to carry out its investigations.
(v) Investigation of Accidents: Section 10 of the Aircraft Bill, 2023 provides for the power of Central Government to make rules for investigation of accidents including, among other things, prohibition for access to or interference with aircraft to which accident or incident has occurred.
(vi) Rule-making powers of Central Government: In addition to the general rule-making powers of the Central Government, the Aircraft Act, 1934 empowers the Central Government to make rules on specific matters which include economic regulation of airfares, registration and marking of aircraft, and carriage of article or substance. The Aircraft Bill, 2023 seeks to expand these to include: (a) security oversight, (b) scope of oversight functions of the DGCA and BCAS, and (c) issuance of radio telephone operator certificates and aircraft maintenance licenses.
(vii) Power to detain aircraft: Section 15 of the Aircraft Bill, 2023 provides that any authority authorised by the Central Government may detain any aircraft, if in the opinion of such authority— (a) having regard to the nature of an intended flight, the flight of such aircraft would involve danger to persons in the aircraft or to any other persons or property; or (b) such detention is necessary to secure compliance with any of the provisions of this Act or the rules applicable to such aircraft; or such detention is necessary to prevent a contravention of any rule made or to implement any order made by any court.
(viii) Compensation and arbitration: Section 17 of the Aircraft Bill, 2023 provides for compensation to be paid to any person who sustains any loss or damage in consequence of any direction or notification issued. The said Section also provides that where amount of compensation cannot be fixed by agreement, the same shall be resolved through arbitration by appointment of arbitrator by the Central Government who shall be a person who is or has been qualified for appointment as a Judge of a High Court. Section 17 further provides that nothing in the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996 shall apply to arbitration under this Section.
In addition, Section 17 provides that the Central Government may, in any particular case, nominate a person having expert knowledge as to the nature of the loss or damage suffered by the person to be compensated and where such nomination is made, the person to be compensated may also nominate an assessor for the same purpose.
(ix) Penalty: Sections 20 and 22 of the Aircraft Bill, 2023 provide that if any person contravenes rules prohibiting or regulating the carriage in aircraft of arms, explosives or other dangerous goods, or willfully fails to comply with any direction issued by the DGCA or any other officer specially empowered by the Central Government, he/she shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years or with fine which may extend to one crore rupees, or with both.
(x) Appeal against imposition of penalties: As per Section 29 of the Aircraft Bill, 2023, if any person is aggrieved with the penalty imposed by an officer, he/she may appeal to a First Appellate Officer, who is next higher in rank to such officer who has passed the order. The Bill provides an additional level of appeal to Second Appellate Officer in case of dissatisfaction with the order of the First Appellate Officer. The Central Government shall be the final Appellate Authority.
The Aircraft Bill, 2023 is a significant piece of legislation that would modernize the civil aviation sector in India. Some of the anticipated benefits of the Aircraft Bill, 2023 can be:
- It would create a more level playing field for airlines and other aviation businesses.
- It would improve safety and security in the civil aviation sector.
- It would promote innovation in the civil aviation sector.
- It would make India an attractive destination for foreign investment in the civil aviation sector.
The Aircraft Bill, 2023 has been put up for public consultation for a period of 30 days with effect from May 30,2023. Once it is passed into law and corresponding rules and regulations are framed, in all likelihood, it will make India a more attractive destination for airlines and other aviation businesses in order to keep up with the global aviation market wherein with a current compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 5.8% (according to IATA), India is one of the fastest-growing aviation markets globally. As of 2023, India already has the third-largest domestic aviation sector in the world overtaking Japan and is expected to overtake the UK by 2024 to become the third-largest air passenger market in the world.
– Ranjan Jha, Partner
Disclaimer: The contents of the above publication are based on interpretation, analysis and understanding of applicable laws and updates in law, within the knowledge of authors. Readers should take steps to ascertain the current developments given the everyday changes that may be occurring in India on internationally on the subject covered hereinabove. These are personal views of authors and do not constitute a legal opinion, analysis or interpretation. This is an initiative to share developments in the world of law or as may be relevant for a reader. No reader should act on the basis of any statement made above without seeking professional and up-to-date legal advice.