Despite pleas from international carriers and foreign governments, India has declined to tweak the format in which passenger information has to be provided to aviation and security authorities but agreed to extend the deadline for airlines by another month.
India had proposed to implement what is called an advanced passenger information system, or Apis, from 30 June, making it mandatory for carriers flying into the country to transmit key passenger information before their flights take off for Indian destinations.
Data barriers: Many international carriers including Lufthansa have reservations on the format in which data has to be sent.
First introduced in the US and tightened after the 11 September terror attacks, Apis is an automated system capable of performing database queries on passengers and crew prior to arrival, providing more robust screening.
More than half-a-dozen countries, including Canada, South Africa, Australia and Kuwait, have made it mandatory for airlines operating flights to their airports to comply with such requirements.
Most of the information Apis requires is available in the so-called machine-readable parts of a traveller’s passport but the Indian version requires airlines to furnish additional data manually.
This data can then be compared with security databases by immigration authorities to check the background of the passengers and flight crew. But international carriers, including Emirates Airlines, Lufthansa AG, Singapore Airlines Ltd and Air France-KLM Group, have expressed reservations about the Indian government’s requirements of the format in which the data is to be transmitted.
Globally, the industry norm is to transfer the highly confidential passport information in a format called the United Nations Electronic Data Interchange for Administration, Commerce and Transport which is then decoded by immigration authorities at the country it is sent to.
But India has asked airlines to send the details in a flat file format, which is the final version, putting the onus of encrypting the information sent on the airline. This had led airlines and the International Air Transport Association, or Iata, to seek clarifications.
Representatives from Emirates, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, among others, told a meeting of senior officials of the home affairs and civil aviation ministries and other regulatory officials in the Capital earlier this month that New Delhi should re-examine the proposal. They argued that data protection laws of some countries do not allow airlines to share passenger information with a private service provider as India is seeking.
Besides, they insisted that the losses on the back of high jet fuel prices do not permit them to hire service providers as an additional cost, according to a senior government official familiar with the deliberations at the meeting who did not wish to be identified.
Mint had reported last month that airlines such as Japan Airlines Corp. had said they may even prefer withdrawing Tokyo-New Delhi flights faced with insistence on Apis. At the meeting, ministry of home affairs officials said they will try to expedite moving to the globally-accepted Apis format within one year. Until then, the airlines have to gear up to the system.
Airlines not complying with the guidelines could potentially face penalties or even have their personnel jailed for up to five years under Section 14 of India’s Foreigners Act of 1946.
An aviation expert said India needs to dovetail its Apis with that used in other parts of the world. Arguing that the process should be automatic, former Iata country head Robey Lal, who dealt with the issue during his tenure last year, said, “There should be no requirement for airlines to further type (in data) manually. Also this data for each flight manifest should be transferred electronically directly to a central coordinating (agency) of the immigration department in India instead of being sent to multiple cities by the airline.”
National Aviation Co. of India Ltd-run Air India is the only airline to have complied with the Indian Apis requirement with nearly six others, names of which could not be ascertained, have engaged service providers to that effect.