Aviation security watchdog BCAS has opposed a demand by airline operators to exempt pilots from the mandatory pre-flight briefing session by sky marshals.
The agency is now awaiting the Home Ministry's views on the matter. At a recent meeting called by the Civil Aviation Ministry, the airlines demanded that pilots be excused from being briefed by sky marshals before take off, according to sources. Sky marshals are armed security personnel in plain clothes who travel in select flights to deal with mid-air security emergencies, if any. The briefing is part of the security drill but the carriers are opposing it on the grounds that on several occasions pilots do not have enough time to switch from one flight to another. Sources said the BCAS (Bureau of Civil Aviation Security) is opposed to the demand from the airlines as the pilot-in- command is in charge of a flight and should attend the briefing. Airlines are of the view that in case of a security emergency on board, such as a hijack, the cabin crew would be directly in touch with the sky marshals and not pilots. Hence, pilots should not be compulsorily required to attend the briefing by sky marshals which is a standard orientation procedure, sources added. With differences persisting, the issue of whether to give exemption or not has been referred to the Home Ministry for a final call. Generally, sky marshals are drawn from the elite National Security Guard (NSG) and are also trained in anti-hijacking duties. These security officers are deployed on random basis on domestic as well as international flights. The practice of having sky marshals on board flights was started after the hijack of an Indian Airlines flight from Kathmandu to Delhi by terrorists in December 1999.
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