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Row over airline favours for MPs

New Delhi, Jan. 29: The civil aviation ministry today found itself in trouble over suggestions that private airlines had been asked to extend privileges to MPs.

The controversy arose when a letter allegedly issued by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) on December 16 last year surfaced. The letter asked all private airlines to give a list of nodal/protocol officers to take care of the protocol to be extended to MPs.

Civil aviation minister Ajit Singh tried to firefight by denying reports that said the government wanted airlines to give lounge facilities and express check-ins to MPs. The minister said neither the ministry nor the regulator had issued any order to extend courtesies.

The DGCA also said it had not given any instruction to private airlines to extend special facilities to MPs.

But sources said that private airlines, including low-cost carriers, had been orally directed by the government to ensure that privileges like faster security clearance and lounge access were given to MPs in line with what Air India had been providing so far.

However, the private airlines have been resisting complying with such “suggestions”.

The DGCA letter seeking the lists of protocol officers was seen as a follow-up step to the oral nudge. The list was sought after a number of MPs complained of airports and airlines not giving them protocol facilities and courtesies.

A parliamentary “committee on violation of protocol norms and contemptuous behaviour of government officers with member(s) of the Lok Sabha”, which is part of the Privileges Committee, had raised the issue with the ministry late last year.

The committee had said “airports and airlines are not adhering to the guidelines on protocol norms and courtesy to be extended to the members of Parliament”.

However, aviation analysts point out that the committee did not really have any locus standi to seek any special facilities from private businesses as its purpose was to seek adherence to protocol norms by government officers only.

The DGCA, too, seemed to understand that despite issuing this letter, it could not really ask for special facilities for MPs from private airlines.

Noting that a 2007 circular of the civil aviation ministry on the matter had listed Air India as the sole carrier which was supposed to provide the facilities to MPs, DGCA chief Prabhat Kumar advised the ministry to review any future order on protocol norms. The chief said the names of other airlines had to be included before they could be asked to extend the facilities to the MPs.