TT, New Delhi, April 7: Air India today lifted its flight ban on Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad, accused of beating an airline official with slippers a fortnight ago, under pressure from the civil aviation ministry.
However, possibly in an attempt to placate the cabin crews and pilots, the ministry will go ahead with plans for a "national no-fly list" that will bar unruly passengers and those suspected of terror links.
Gaikwad had yesterday sent a "regret" letter to aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju after days of defiance, giving the government a version of the "apology" it had sought to be able to get the ban lifted without triggering a public outrage.
Other airlines that had banned Gaikwad - such as Federation of Indian Airlines members IndiGo, Jet Airways, SpiceJet and GoAir - are expected to follow suit.
Although none was willing to be quoted, senior officials from most of these airlines revealed that the ministry had contacted them individually. They said they would revoke their bans on the MP over the "next few days".
Air India brass had received phone calls from the ministry as well as a faxed four-paragraph letter to its chairperson that said: "In view of the apology tendered by Shri Gaikwad and undertaking of good conduct given by him, Air India and other airlines are advised to lift the ban imposed on him for air travel."
It added: "In order to deal with the unruly passengers in a more effective manner in future, an amendment to CAR (civil aviation requirements) is being drafted by (aviation regulator) DGCA in consultation with this ministry for establishing a 'national no-fly list'."
Once the list becomes a reality, flyers may be asked to register any one government-issued identity card - Aadhaar, PAN, passport or any other -while buying tickets. This will allow airlines to screen their names against the list and warn blacklisted passengers that they may not be allowed to fly unless they can get a clearance from the authority managing the list.
The US is possibly the first country to have created such a database after the 9/11 attacks but has been followed by several others, from Canada and Singapore to China and Egypt.
India's airlines say that the Aircraft Act and the Air Safety Regulations, based on the Convention on International Carriage by Air, allow them to offload and ban passengers who are a threat to flight safety and even create a "no-fly list".
The Air India Cabin Crew Association wrote to airline chairperson Ashwani Lohani that the ministry decision to lift the ban before Gaikwad had tendered an unconditional apology to the airline employees would demoralise staff.
"Unless he tenders an unconditional apology to AI employees, and undertakes in writing to abide by International Conventions and Aircraft Rules and follows all cabin safety and public behaviour norms, we must not let him back on board," the letter said.
Yesterday, Gaikwad had told Parliament he owed no apology to the airline or its employees, whom he accused of having provoked him during the March 23 confrontation by abusing and insulting him.
However, by this evening, the Air India brass had ordered the airline's commercial wing and computerised reservation services to allow Gaikwad to book tickets on future flights.
Gaikwad still took a train back to Mumbai this evening, a PTI report said. Sources close to the MP said he had boarded the New Delhi-Mumbai Central Rajdhani Express as he had booked the ticket in advance and had not received an official communication about the lifting of the ban, anyway.
Yesterday was the first time the Maharashtra MP had attended Parliament since the flight ban, flying to Delhi from Pune on a chartered jet.
Before the withdrawal of the ban, Air India had blocked seven attempts by Gaikwad to book tickets by changing the spelling of his surname or by using honorifics such as "professor" and "doctor", sources said.
Gaikwad has indirectly promised not to repeat his behaviour, writing to Raju last night that he hoped "this (March 23) incident may kindly not be seen as a reason for likely recurrence of such an event in future also".
His letter was faxed after a day of rumpus in Parliament by Shiv Sena members, who threatened not to allow flight operations in Mumbai if the ban continued.
Trinamul Congress MP Dola Sen was accused of holding up a Delhi-Calcutta Air India flight for nearly 30 minutes today. She apparently insisted her wheelchair-bound mother be allowed to take her allotted seat near the emergency door.
Aviation safety rules mandate that only healthy passengers capable of helping others disembark in an emergency should be allowed on these seats.
Air India officials said Sen had booked the seats for herself and family members without mentioning that her mother was wheelchair-bound. A PTI report said she had paid extra for these seats, which provide legroom similar to front-row seats.
When Sen boarded the flight, the cabin crew told her that the rules do not allow wheelchair-bound passengers to sit on rows beside emergency exits.
Sen "shouted", a member of the crew said. The pilot then stepped out and offered to upgrade Sen's mother seat to the business class but the MP would not yield.
Eventually, Sen's mother had to relinquish the emergency-exit row and take an alternative economy-class seat. Sen could not be reached for comments.
Sen could not be contacted.