In what could be called a week of hoax calls that managed to ground 60 airlines and cost crores of rupees to the airline industry and security agencies, the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport in New Delhi witnessed a flurry of activity in the past week.
The IGI Airport received 20 to 24 hoax calls over the past one year, an airport official told International Business Times, India. The range, he explained, indicate a discrepance between the calls received directly by the airport authority and the ones routed through hotels and other establishments inside the airport premises.
Airlines, meanwhile, have thrown up a wider range of numbers, from five such calls to one airline to as many as 44 to another, over the past week. The official, however, explained that the numbers the carriers may not necessarily pertain to the hoax call count, and could also refer to the number flights grounded. "There have been reports of the grounding of 60 flights over the period of a week. Every instance of call could have prompted a search action on a number of flights," he said.
On different days of the past week, Air India, IndiGo and Jet Airways had 44, 11 and five of their aircraft, respectively, combed for threats.
Estimating the cost involved for each airline, the Times of India reported March 30 every hoax call to an airport cause a loss of Rs 2 crore to each airline. An airline spokesperson told ToI a terror alert call would cost an airline Rs 1.5 crore to Rs 2 crore on an average — with expenditure being made on food, accommodation and alternate flight arrangements, in the least.
A diversion of a mid-air plane would cost Rs 3-4 lakh per hour on fuel alone, CNN IBN had reported March 28.
The news channel had added that though a stringent law like the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation Act, which has provisions to jail a convict for life, exists, its implementation is difficult.
"The calls are from VoIP and such calls are Internet calls. It becomes difficult to fix the identity. With someone sitting abroad or sending a VOIP call it takes time to judge whether it's real or hoax, [sic]" Taj Hassan, Special Commissioner of Police (Crime), Delhi Police was quoted by IBN.
On the bigger security question of terror attack, such as the one at Brussels, the airport official who spoke to IBTimes India explained that with 4,500 -Central Institute Security Force (CISF) personnel guarding the international airport, each instance of terrorism on Indian soil or outside is viewed with utmost seriousness.
The recent Brussels attacks, too, led to immediate augmentation of forces and a thorough security due-diligence at IGI Airport, he said, adding that actually security is completely out of the airport authority's purview.
It is the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) — a sovereign body — that plans and coordinates all matters involving aviation security. It monitors implementation thereof by CISF, which reports to it.
CNN IBN reported BCAS was experiencing a severe manpower shortage, employing just 111 personnel at the moment. It added that the crunch was seen especially with regard to its inspectors who deal with threat calls.
In the meantime, a CISF official told ToI the IGI Airport was "not built in a manner to facilitate security checks before entry into the airport," and any change in the security apparatus would require a complete overhaul of terminals.
However, he added that currently there is no plan to change the security apparatus at the airport.