The Supreme Court on Monday allowed Air India to operate international flights with occupancy in middle seats. The court was hearing a petition filed by the Centre and Air India after Bombay high court questioned why the airline was not keeping the middle seats vacant in international flights.
“Air India shall be allowed to operate non-scheduled foreign flights with middle seats occupied for ten days: The Chief Justrice of India S A Bobde said “you should be worried about the health of the citizens not about the health of a commercial airline.”
A division bench presided by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde, Justice A.S. Bopanna, and Justice Hrishikesh Roy of Supreme Court while conducting hearing through video conferencing further stated that the matter will be looked at again in ten days and in the meantime has asked the Bombay High Court to pass an interim order after hearing all the parties. The bench has also given DGCA a free hand to alter any norms it may consider appropriate during the pendency of the matter.
Solicitor General Tushar Mehta appearing for the Central Government and Air India submitted before the Court that the Interim order given by the Bombay High Court relies on the pre-lockdown circular dated 18th March, and applies only to the non-scheduled domestic flights. Whereas, the Bench contended by saying that it applies to Airports and Airlines.
Mehta further submitted that a meeting of experts was held on 4th May. Wherein, it was discussed that the aircraft has a system of HPCA, and is one of the reasons for deciding to leave the middle seat vacant.
The bench raised a question that, “There is no difference between International and Domestic Flights?” Whereas, Mehta answered by saying that there is no difference. The court further stated that there shouldn’t be a difference, it is a common sense that maintaining social distancing is important.
The centre and the state run Air India had approached the Supreme Court in an urgent plea against the Bombay HC order challenging the decision to keep middle seats vacant in flights scheduled to fly from Monday. The plea was heard on an urgent basis.
In its order, the HC had directed Air India to keep middle seats vacant on international flights. Moreover, the HC asked Air India to comply with the Director of General Civil Aviation’s “social distancing” circulation, which required middle seats to be kept vacant on international flights.
Read the Order Here;11629-2020-31-1-22235-Order-25-May-2020
-India Legal Bureau