New Delhi: International airlines flying into India have missed another deadline to put in place a system to provide information on inbound passengers to aviation and security officials.
No international carrier had complied with the order to implement the so-called advanced passenger information system, or Apis, by 1 August to screen inbound passengers that Indian officials say is a critical security requirement. The first deadline had expired on 1 July.
To conform with the order, airlines need to hire a company locally to set up computer hardware and software systems at six international airports in the country: New Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kochi. International airlines that Mint spoke to, said they were still preparing to implement the system.
“The main reason (for the delay) is engaging the service provider who can give the information in the format provided by the ministry of home affairs (MHA) and the time it will take for the service provider to put in place the hardware systems,” said a senior civil aviation ministry official.
Another meeting between international airlines and officials of the home and civil aviation ministries will likely deal with the issue, said this official, who did not wish to be identified. No date for the meeting has been set.
First introduced in the US and tightened after the 11 September 2001 terror attacks, Apis is an automated system capable of performing database queries on passengers and crew prior to arrival, providing more robust screening. Countries such as Canada, South Africa, Australia and Kuwait have made the system mandatory for airlines operating flights to their airports.
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 passengers and flight crew.
Globally, the industry norm is to transfer 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 airlines to send the details in a so-called flat file format, which is the final version, putting the onus of encrypting the information sent on the airline. This has been resisted by carriers and International Air Transport Association.
The format proposed by Indian authorities will be valid for only up to a year until MHA and the National Informatics Centre can adjust their systems to UN/Edifact. That means additional spending for airlines already battling a steep increase in jet fuel prices.
National Aviation Co. of India Ltd-run Air India has complied with the requirement and Jet Airways Ltd has been asking its international incoming passengers, especially frequent flyers, to provide the information before they board a flight.
International carriers said they are still preparing to implement the system. “We have been ready with the requisite information/data since 1 August. We have engaged a software vendor to implement this data requirement,” said a spokeswoman for Singapore Airlines Ltd.
US-based Delta Air Lines Inc. insisted it “was given an extension to harmonize the technical procedure as required by the Indian government” and it will be “fully compliant with the mandate”. 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 though so far the government has limited itself only to issuing warnings.
European airline groups Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Swiss International Air Lines Ltd and Austrian Airlines AG are collaborating jointly on a project to meet the requirements. “A solution that is not in line with the standard solution needs to take some preparation time. Therefore, we asked the authorities to give us more time...” said a spokeswoman for Austrian.