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US moots one-stop screening with India at aviation summit

Washington, June 25 : A top US aviation security official on Tuesday called for a one-stop security screening arrangement with India to reduce duplication of efforts at both ends for passengers as part of a broader cooperation between the two countries in civil aviation.

“If we have a one-stop agreement with the government of India and with Delhi airport, we would not need to re-screen … passengers and their check bags would go from aircraft to aircraft in almost every situation,” David Pekoske, head of the US Transportation Security Administration said at the start of a three-day India-US civil aviation summit here.

“This is a really powerful concept. It offers a number of important benefits. It raises global aviation security standards that need to flex and debounce the United States are more secure if there’s a reverse agreement between the United States and India where US screening satisfies Indian requirements.”

US-bound passengers will be screened for security at the airport of embarkation in India, say Delhi, under this arrangement and when they land in the US and have a connecting domestic flight to another US destination, their checked-in baggage will transfer straight from their aircraft to the next.

And likewise in the opposite direction, for India-bound passengers.

The International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), a UN body that promotes civil aviation between member countries, encourages one-step security (OSS), saying: “OSS agreements enable the avoidance of unnecessary duplication of security controls and increase the global sustainability of the aviation security system, and provide for a more straightforward transfer process for passengers and their belongings resulting in shorter connections, fewer missed connections and fewer missing bags at destination.”

Pekoske suggested a few more areas of cooperation mostly to “harmonise” aviation security between the two countries, including on data sharing and cyber-security.

He would like to post a TSA representative – called TSAR – in New Delhi, he added, noting: “Local interaction is so critically important for developing our partnership which already has a very strong foundation.”

The seventh iteration of the summit is taking place after a gap of seven years, disrupted mainly by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is being hosted by the US Trade Development Agency (USTDA) with the Indian Civil Aviation Ministry.

Civil Aviation Secretary Vumlunmang Vualnam, who is leading the Indian delegation, started by bringing the summit’s participants up to speed on India’s growing civil aviation industry in the intervening years.

“I’m happy to start by saying that in India, we have seen a robust recovery post-Covid. Our air passengers have reached levels, both in the domestic and in the international flights, to the pre-Covid levels. Our airlines have been resilient, and they have passed through the Covid period. And in fact, new airlines have started in these last few years, and even more are in the pipeline. So I think it’s been a long time since we met, but it’s been a good time for civil aviation in India.”

The Secretary presented figures to illustrate his point — the number of airports has gone up from 74 to 157 in the last 10 years, for instance — and detailed that “the robust framework within which this progresses” was made possible. He spoke about the availability of land, which is the responsibility of state government, the transparency with which airport tariffs are determined by an autonomous body – which is “an arm’s length from the mainline government”, to the availability of trained commercial pilots, and ongoing efforts to streamline the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) industry.

Above all, he said in conclusion, there is a government in Delhi that listens.

Enoh T. Ebong, head of the US Trade Development Agency, Michael Whittaker, head of the Federal Aviation Administration, which is the US regulator for civil aviation, and Sripriya Ranganathan, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the India Embassy also spoke at the inaugural event.

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