Saturday, August 8, 2009

Air India to have own security check at TIA

Air India to have own security check at TIA
Maoist minister gave permission

KATHMANDU, Aug 8: The government has given permission to Air India (AI) to operate its own security checking at the tarmac of Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA).

The government is currently working on the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for such security checks by officials of a foreign airline at the country´s only international airport. Once the procedures are ready, AI will be allowed to basically second-screen passengers and luggage with portable x-ray machines in the sterilized zone of the tarmac. Currently, officials of the Indian airline are only allowed to carry out manual-frisking of passengers at the ladder of the airplane.

The decision to grant such permission was taken by then Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation Hisila Yami under a written request from the government of India despite stiff opposition by then secretary at the ministry, Lila Mani Poudel. Secretary Poudel was transferred to another ministry before Yami took the final decision.

Talking to, Yami admitted that she had taken such a decision. “Yes, I granted such permission to AI during my tenure," she said.

Though such a practice is not new, aviation experts have opposed the permission on three grounds. First, it somehow undermines the sovereignty of the nation. Second, it may compromise the security sensitivity of other airlines since it provides "unrestricted mobility" to the security officials of IA. And third, this could prompt other international airlines to demand such permission also, thereby creating a logistical problem of space. Jet Airways has already applied for a similar facility.

But both Yami and current secretary at the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation Nagendra Ghimire defend the decision.

“I don´t think it undermines our sovereignty and national security,” said Yami. She, however, expressed unawareness of the unrestricted mobility for AI´s security officials or the other technical details of such a system. “I agreed to allow such a facility based on information provided by ministry staff,” she said, adding, “I could have been misled but still I don´t think I made a wrong decision.”

Secretary Ghimire said the mobility of airline officials in sensitive zones at airports is not a new thing in international aviation. “Such provisions exist in other countries too,” he argued.

However, there is a serious difference of opinion at the National Aviation Security Committee (NASC), which finalizes the SOP, on the implications of providing such a facility to a foreign airline. A meeting of the NASC held last Saturday could not finalize the procedures due to serious differences.

NASC, a body under the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), is headed by the line minister and includes the Nepal Army´s second-in-command, the chiefs of the Nepal Police, the Armed Police Force and the National Investigation Department (NID), the secretaries from the Home, Defense, Law and Finance Ministries, the Attorney General and the Director General of CAAN.

India had long been asking Nepal for such a facility, arguing that India-bound flights from Kathmandu were under serious security threat, especially since the hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC-814 on December 24, 1999.

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