August 20, 2008

Jet Airways Plays With Baggage Screening Norm

By Manju V

MUMBAI: At every international airport in India, only one security agency is allowed to conduct X-ray screening of registered baggage for all foreign flights. But Jet Airways has apparently been flouting this norm at the Mumbai airport for a while.

The airline recently came under the scanner of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) for doing away with the rule, which is aimed at making the security procedure at Indian airports foolproof. Air India, incidentally, is the security handling agency for the Mumbai airport.

The BCAS has sought an explanation from Jet Airways in a letter dated July 22, a copy of which is available with TOI. It says, "Under the single security handling agency instructions, Air India was authorized to screen the registered baggage at Mumbai airport. It has been observed that Jet Airways is screening the registered baggage themselves."

The letter goes on to seek an explanation from the airline and asks whether or not it has got any exemption from the single security handling agency system followed at Indian airports.

A Jet Airways spokesperson said, "The airline is working with BCAS on the issue, as it has done in the past, to ensure that passengers are not unduly inconvenienced while ensuring that security requirements, both Indian and international, are not compromised."

According to a source, the carrier started flouting the norm-put forth by the Indian government-in June 2007 after it launched its United States flight operations.

One of the requirements put forward by USA's Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was that Jet Airways should carry out a secondary screening of its checking baggage before loading the same onto the cargo hold of an aircraft.

The reason? "In Indian airports, passengers themselves get their check-in bag X-rayed, taped and stamped by the airport's security agency (which is Air India in the case of Mumbai). The passenger then goes to the check-in desk and hands over the screened bag, which is then sent to the aircraft concerned by the carrier ," said the source.

The TSA was not comfortable with this arrangement as it felt that giving back an X-ray-screened bag to the passenger was not a foolproof procedure. "So, it wanted Jet Airways to put the bags through a secondary screening after a passenger handed them over at check-in ," said the source. In short, the registered baggage was to be screened twice-first, a primary X-ray screening by Air India and then a secondary check by Jet Airways.

"To comply with TSA's requirements, Jet Airways installed its own X-ray machines. But it put these up in front of the counters and did away with the first (primary) screening, which is done by Air India. The decision brought savings as the airline would have had to pay Air India about Rs 18,000 per flight for a wide-bodied aircraft and Rs 16,000 per flight for a narrow-bodied plane. Jet Airways must have saved more than a million dollars over the last year. Air India did not object to this arrangement," alleged the source.

An Air India spokesperson, on the other hand, pointed out, "The BCAS had appointed Air India as the single security handling agency for Mumbai airport. So, the onus of ensuring compliance of its orders by all airlines lies with BCAS and AAI/MIAL."

It could be noted that in other international airports like Delhi and Chennai, where Indian and AAI have been appointed the single security handling agency, respectively, the registered baggage of Jet Airways is screened twice.

The Jet spokesperson said, "Though there was some cost benefit, it is not the motivational factor for initiating the change- security is." The spokesperson also said the Jet staff were BCAS- certified to screen the bags and that the "level of security achieved was therefore higher than the level of security that prevailed when passengers collected their screened bags and tendered it to the check-in desk."

"As practised by the aviation security industry and in consultation with the BCAS, we proceeded with screening checked bags downstream after acceptance of the baggage from passengers. This minimises inconveniences to passengers and enhances security," the spokesperson added.

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