06 April, 2018, New Delhi
A team of stakeholders led by Svayam met Shri Kumar Rajesh Chandra, Director General, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) and his team of senior officials to discuss the challenges faced by persons with disabilities and those with reduced mobility during security screening at the Indian Airports. This was pursuant to the National Meeting of Stakeholders organised by Svayam to discuss issues faced during air travel by persons with disabilities and those with reduced mobility, on 22 November 2017, at the Constitution Club of India, New Delhi, and consequent submission of our collated recommendations to the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment & Ministry of Civil Aviation.
The meeting took place on 06th April 2018 at the BCAS HQ at Janpath Bhawan, New Delhi. The meeting offered yet another chance to stakeholders to actively participate in the process and negotiate for their demands for accessible, dignified air travel.
The stakeholders were represented at the meeting by Mr. Subhash Chandra Vashishth (Director, Svayam), Mr. Nipun Malhotra (CEO, Nipman Foundation) and Ms. Smitha Sadasivan (Member, Disability Rights Alliance).
The DG, BCAS, at the outset, gave a brief background of the steps taken by the BCAS and assured the stakeholders that the BCAS would take the right steps in this direction to address the issues faced by disabled flyers. He also clarified that while BCAS deals with the issue of security related protocols, DGCA deals with issue of safety & passenger conveniences.
There was a point-wise discussion on the existing Standard Operating Procedures (SoPs) and recommendations by the stakeholders as compiled by Svayam and submitted to the Ministry of Civil Aviation in December 2017. The BCAS officials informed that the Bureau had issued an Addendum dated 03rd October 2017 to the Standard Operating Procedure (SoP) dated 31st March 2014 for screening passengers with special needs and medical conditions. But they agreed that these passengers still face difficulties and embarrassment, and hence more changes are required. A copy of this Addendum can be accessed here and copy of SOPs here.
Some of the major issues which were discussed included; use of full body scanners, scanning orthosis and prosthesis without invading privacy or causing avoidable discomfort; screening of battery operated wheelchairs, poor quality of airport wheelchairs, allowing airport passes for non-travelling passenger/companion for persons with disabilities, relieving areas for service animals etc.
BCAS officials explained that while “Millimeter wave scanners” though considered safe, require persons to stand in a certain posture, hence it is not suitable for wheelchair users. Other forms of X-ray technologies are not considered due to privacy and radiation issues. Therefore, a mix of multiple security protocols (such as visual profiling, ETD, physical frisking) have to be deployed to scan the wheelchairs in addition to the scanners.
While the issue of prosthesis screening has been largely resolved for cases where the steel rod is discernible, the orthosis has remained a challenge as it uses foam padding to prevent injuries. Presence of foam raises suspicion, requiring deployment of intensive screening procedures to ensure there are no hidden weapons.
On the issue of oxygen cylinders and special medical equipment, the BCAS officials said that they would like to know the best practices from the stakeholders to improve on the screening procedures.
Protocols for screening of service animals is relevantly a new area and challenges were mainly in the areas of soft training of screening staff. The officials promised to address this issue. It was felt that the availability of “relieving areas” for service animals at the airports was an issue in the domain of DGCA hence this would be taken up with relevant authorities in our next meet.
The stakeholders are requested to send their feedback/ comments, if any on the above issues or any additional issues related to security screening to firstname.lastname@example.org.