Flying into India could turn into a nightmare for international travellers, if New Delhi goes ahead with its demands for passenger information from global carriers in a particular format before their flights take off for the country.
India proposes to implement from 30 June an advanced passenger information system, or Apis, that requires carriers to transmit key passenger information before their flights take off for India.
First introduced in the US and tightened after the September 2001 terror attacks in New York, Apis is an automated system capable of performing database queries on passengers and crew prior to arrival, providing more robust passenger screening.
A file photo of Iata director general Giovanni Bisignani (Photo by: Don MacKinnon / Bloomberg)
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. This data can then be compared with security databases by immigration authorities to check the background of the passengers, and flight crew.
India, too, sought to put in a similar system in place starting 1 April, and extended the deadline to 30 June for carriers to prepare themselves. However, airlines say even this may not be met.
“We have asked the government to harmonize the systems as (the data) they are asking for is a different format,” said Steve Ridgway, chief executive of UK-based Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd, that runs flights between Europe and Mumbai and Delhi.
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,or UN/Edifact, which is then decoded by immigration authorities at the country it is sent to.
But India has asked the airlines to send the details in a flat file format, which is the final version and does not require any further decryption. It means the airline needs to re-encrypt the information after sending it across to India.
Ridgway said meeting this requirement will require further investments, something Virgin is unwilling to do.
Virgin is not the only airline to say so. Shigeyuki Kamei, vice-president of industry affairs at Japan Airlines Corp., one of Asia’s largest carrier, is also seeking clarity on the process. Kamei says the passenger information India seeks is much more stricter and “personal”, besides the difference in formats.
It is stricter than the US in some requirements, he said, adding that the airline has sent its comments to the International Air Transport Association, or Iata.
In addition to the five fields that machines can read off a passport, New Delhi is asking for three more fields: the passenger’s visa number, its date of issue and the passenger’s residing address.
The ministry of home affairs is “not insisting on all the mandatory fields right now as it is still in early stages of implementation,” said a senior official at state-owned national carrier National Aviation Co. of India Ltd that runs Air India, which will also be required to furnish the same details for passengers. But, “we have already complied with it.”
Iata said it is trying to reach a consensus. “I have expressed my concerns with the minister (of civil aviation Praful Patel). I have explained to them that we need to have a global standard,” said Giovanni Bisignani, Iata’s director general. “The IT system will (otherwise) be a nightmare in costs.”
Japan Airlines’ Kamei said his company may have to stop its Tokyo-New Delhi flight if it was not able to comply with India’s Apis rules.
Tarun Shukla was recently in Istanbul as a guest of Iata.