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HC allows Air India pilot to challenge new rule that does not mandate vacant middle seat

The plea, filed by Commander Deven Kanani, stated that during the Vande Bharat Mission flights, Air India did not maintain physical distancing norms and filled all seats, endangering lives of the passengers.

Written by Omkar Gokhale | Mumbai | Updated: May 23, 2020 5:36:29 pm
Bombay HC allows Air India pilot to challenge new rule that does not mandate vacant seat between two passengers Indians stranded in Singapore aboard a Singapore-Delhi Air India flight. (Twitter/India in Singapore)

The Bombay High Court Friday directed a pilot of Air India to challenge the new circular issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), through which its March 23 order to maintain a vacant seat between two passengers in flights was withdrawn.

The pilot had earlier moved the HC challenging the national airline’s initial decision not to keep a seat between two passengers vacant for emergency flights that were arranged to bring back stranded Indians from abroad through the Centre’s Vande Bharat Mission, and stated that it was in violation of the March 23 circular issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

The court had held that Air India was in violation of the DGCA directive and had asked the airline to file a detailed response explaining its stand. However, when it was informed that the March 23 order of the DGCA had been withdrawn and a new circular issued, the court granted liberty to the pilot to amend his plea with challenge to the new circular.

A division bench of Justices R D Dhanuka and Abhay Ahuja heard the matter through videoconference. The plea, filed by Commander Deven Kanani through his advocate Abhilash Panickar, stated that during the Vande Bharat Mission flights, the national air carrier did not maintain physical distancing norm and filled all seats, endangering lives of the passengers.

Opposing the plea, advocates Abhinav Chandrachud, Arsh Misra and Kavita Anchan for Air India submitted that DGCA norms were meant for scheduled flights and not for Vande Bharat flights, which were non-scheduled. Advocate Chandrachud said all passengers on Vande Bharat flights were provided with masks and precautionary measures were taken.

After hearing submissions, the bench observed that Air India was in violation, and sought a detailed explanation with the names of passengers who were allotted vacant seats and the list of their flights through which they landed in India. It posted the hearing for next week.

Before the court could rise for the day, Air India through advocate Chandrachud submitted that DGCA issued a circular on May 22 announcing restarting of domestic flights from May 25 and directed airlines and airports to follow new guidelines which superceded the March 23 circular. The respondent airline said the earlier court order could not be complied with and sought it to be set aside.

In view of the proceedings during the day, the bench modified its earlier order, removing earlier direction and granted liberty to the petitioner pilot to amend his plea to challenge the new rules. The court will hear the amended plea in due course.

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