The aviation regulator DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) has levied a penalty of ₹10 lakh on Tata group airline Air India for denying boarding to passengers holding valid tickets, thus violating the regulator's norms. The DGCA has termed it a "matter of serious concern and unacceptable".

The aviation regulator says despite issuing strict instructions to all domestic airlines to abide by its regulation in letter and spirit, Air India was found to be not following these norms. This was found during various checks conducted across Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Delhi.

"After that a series of checks were carried out by DGCA and during our surveillance at Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Delhi, there were specific instances, in the case of Air India – where the regulation is not being followed and therefore, a show-cause notice (SCN) was issued to the airline and also a personal hearing was afforded," says a DGCA statement.

The aviation regulator has asked the airline to immediately put a system in place to resolve the issue or be ready to face further action. "In the specific cases detailed in the SCN, after going through AI (Air India's) submissions, as part of enforcement action, the competent authority has levied a penalty of ₹10 lakh. In addition, the airline has been advised to immediately put the systems in place to resolve the issue – failing which further action shall be taken by DGCA," says the regulator's statement.

As per the DGCA, Air India does not have a policy in this regard and that it is not paying any "compensation to hapless passengers, whose numbers can be anybody’s guess".

What DGCA rules say

If a person is denied boarding even after (s)he holds a valid ticket and reaches on time, the DGCA has laid down certain conditions that must be followed by airlines. In case, an airline is able to arrange an alternate flight for the said passenger in an hour, no compensation is to be paid. However, if the airline provides the alternate arrangement in the next 24 hours, compensation up to ₹10,000 is prescribed.

If the alternate arrangement is provided after 24 hours, the airline is finned with ₹20,000. As per the DGCA, its stipulations on the subject are in sync with the U.S. aviation regulator Federal Aviation Administration and the European Union Aviation Safety Agency. Similar regulations are followed globally to accord appropriate respect to passenger rights.

In April 2022, the DGCA had also imposed a ₹10-lakh fine on Air India's rival SpiceJet and barred its 90 pilots from flying B737 Max aircraft. However, as per SpiceJet, the DGCA restriction does not impact the MAX aircraft's operations and it had adequate trained pilots available for its operations.

In another development, the competition regulator Competition Commission of India (CCI) has approved the acquisition of the entire shareholding in Air Asia India by Air India, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Tata Sons. The merger envisages the acquisition of the entire equity share capital of Air Asia India by Air India Ltd. At present, Tata Sons holds an 83.67% equity stake in Air Asia India.

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