In September 2021, last year, it was announced by the Minister for Civil Aviation that “ India will be made a global hub for the maintenance of Aircraft and Repair.” In today’s standing, Ireland, Singapore and Dubai (in UAE) are considered prime destinations for aircraft maintenance and repair. Before coming to the policy announced by the Ministry of Civil Aviation, it must be pointed out that various incentives exist for making India a hub for the Maintenance and Repair of Aircraft.
A robust MRO policy will help attract more jobs, reduce the costs incurred by airlines that send their aircraft to another country for repair work, and boost the overall economy. MRO refers to the set of operations involving maintenance and repair which are carried out by business enterprises. These operations are carried out in order to ensure that inventory is up to date. When it comes to MRO in relation to aircraft, it refers to the Maintenance, Repair or Overhaul(MRO) of the aircraft. This piece analyses the new policy and suggests methods which can be made by the Government to truly make India a hub for MRO operations.
New Civil Aviation Policy and Drawbacks
Amongst the various points made by the Minister, it was pointed out that the policy will be abolishing the royalty which the Airports Authority of India charged. The land allotment to the companies engaged in the maintenance and repair of aircraft has been increased to thirty years from the pre-existing leasing period of three years to five years. Significantly, there will be an open tender scheme instead of allotting a company based on the request. The Aviation Policy also identifies airports such as Juhu, Chennai, Chandigarh, Bhopal and other airports that will be developed to carry MRO Operations. Other highlights of the announcement made by the Minister were about the rate of escalation and the identification of various airports for maintenance and repair works.
There are currently two sections in the Aircraft Act,1934, which have provisions related to the maintenance and repair of Aircraft. Section 5 of the Aircraft Act gives authority to the Central Government to make laws for the maintenance and repair of aircraft. Clause (g) in the same section authorises the Central Government to issue licenses or certifications for the persons employed in the aircraft operation, maintenance or repair. Thus, the Central Government is the ultimate decision-making body in deciding which companies will be allowed to carry out MRO operations. This strangles the process of ‘ease of doing business’ with red tapeism.
There are powers granted under Section 6 to prohibit the powers of maintenance and repair in cases of emergency (such as a threat to public order, etc.). Apart from these two sections, no specific provisions in any of the laws mention MRO operations. Thus, there is a need for adding provisions on how to make the process of carrying out MRO operations more effective.
Changes which can be incorporated
The lawmakers can draw inspiration from the State of Ireland, a leading nation in carrying out MRO operations. EASA Regulations, which are applicable to various European Nations, demarcate MRO operations on the basis of categories such as minor lined operations, including aeroplanes turbine, aeroplanes piston, helicopters piston and so on. Apart from the designation of MOR operation based on categories, According to the report released by the Government of Ireland, there is a recommendation of launching the sector-specific Skill Net Programme (to address skill shortage) and train people to align “ with the seasonal pattern of MRO demand.” This is imperative, considering that the MRO market dynamics keeps changing frequently depending on a host of conditions.
The rules in Singapore( Singapore Airworthiness Requirements- Part 145) are quite exhaustive in dealing with the rules of MRO Operations. The rules contain basic definitions such as maintenance, overhaul, maintenance data and other important terminologies. Under Section 145.30, there is a hierarchy of persons involved in the maintenance of various parts. Significantly, there is a clear provision for reporting unairworthy conditions such as serious structural damage, significant malfunction of a critical safety system, serious leakage of fluids and other damages. Thus, lawmakers can look forward to incorporating changes from the laws in Singapore.
In the USA, the maintenance of Aircraft and Repair operations has been extended to cover Drones as well. The official website of the US Department of Aircraft Maintenance Division specifically states that one of the tasks of the Divison is “ Focal for Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) functions concerning regulatory aspects of maintenance, repair, and alterations.” Thus, the newly released MRO Policy of India also needs to take into account emerging technologies such as Drone Operations.
With India projected to be fastest growing aviation economy in the Asia, there is an imperative need to revamp the existing laws in order to make India an attractive market for MRO operations. For the same, an amendment has to be made to the Aircraft Acts, 1934 and Aircraft Rules, 1937 and other relevant provisions. While revamping these laws, inspiration can be drawn from various countries such as Singapore, UAE and other nations which have established themselves in the area of MRO operations. At the same time, it is heartening to see that various states in India are coming up with MRO Policies of their own, as observed in the case of Uttar Pradesh. It will be interesting to see how the landscape of MRO Operations in India emerge in the upcoming ten to twenty years.
(This post has been authored by Siddharth Chaturvedi, a third-year law student at DNLU, Jabalpur.)