Airplanes may see the installation of cameras in cabins as a measure for safety and discipline, but privacy concerns remain.
Amid incidents of unruly passenger behaviour onboard planes, a section of legal and aviation experts feel there is a need to install cameras in aircraft cabin as an additional measure to ensure discipline and safety for passengers.
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Electronic monitoring system such as CCTVs in cabin and body cameras for cabin crew could be looked at as options, they opined, though there might be concerns over privacy of the passengers with the deployment of such technologies.
Not just keeping everyone alert but electronic monitoring system will also help in generating evidence in case there is any unruly act onboard a flight, they said.
In recent weeks, multiple incidents of unruly passenger behaviour onboard flights have been reported, including that of a passenger allegedly urinating on a female co-passenger onboard an Air India flight from New York to New Delhi in November last year. The accused Shankar Mishra, who has retracted that he had urinated on the co-passenger, is now in judicial custody.
Senior advocate and former judge of the Allahabad High Court Justice Sakha Ram Singh supported the idea of installing cameras in the aircraft cabin, saying it will help maintain discipline and the rule of law onboard flights.
"I think this is a very valid argument that CCTV should be installed in the cabin to monitor the activities of passengers. The concerned stakeholders should weigh its benefits and take a decision," Justice Singh said.
The sooner such a system is put in place, it will be better as the civil aviation industry is growing and more people are travelling by air.
Sanat Kaul, a former representative of India to the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), said that electronic surveillance is an answer to issues such as unruly passenger behaviour onboard.
"Why shouldn't we have cameras on board? I don't see any logic for not having a surveillance mechanism like CCTV in the cabin?," Kaul, also a founding member and Chairman of the International Foundation For Aviation And Development (IFFAAD), said.
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However, a section of pilots believe that having CCTV in aircraft cabin will amount to infringement of privacy of an individual.
Captain C S Randhawa, Secretary of the Federation of Indian Pilots, said that nowhere in the world, there are cameras in the aircraft cabin.
"In a long haul flight, people sleep and sometimes couples cuddle up with each other. I see it (having cameras in cabin) as a violation of the right to privacy of passengers," he noted.
However, Singh is of the view that air safety should be given prominence over privacy arguments.
"Passengers should know that they are in a public place. They should not indulge in any such act which is private in nature," he said.
Globally, pilot bodies had earlier objected to installing cameras even in the cockpit raising privacy concerns. However, aviation investigators in developed countries like the USA felt that camera recordings provided vital evidence while investigating incidents and accidents.
Even the ICAO pushed forward the idea of having video recorders in the cockpit in future aircraft.
"While DGCA has promulgated regulations for installation of airborne imaging equipment, but to respect crew privacy, the cockpit area view is required to exclude the head and shoulder of crew members whilst seated.
"On similar lines, if the cabin area is recorded, then privacy issues will also come into play," Captain Amit Singh, a senior aviation professional and Founder of the NGO Safety Matters Foundation (NGO), said.
Historically, he said the most advanced countries have not been able to protect the cockpit voice recordings of accidents, which have been leaked on social media sites, and there is no assurance that the cabin recordings can be kept secure or not.
"Even the facial recognition data used for DigiYatra is required to be purged every 24 hours. In the event of an accident, the video will be recording crew and/or passengers dying and these images if leaked will haunt the next of kin forever," Singh said.
He also said that statiscally, the number of unruly passenger incidents per million departures is not significant for every passenger aircraft to install cabin cameras and record every flight. "However, the cabin crew can be equipped with body cameras that record the incident while it's happening. This recording will suffice as evidence to help the investigation".
In recent times, there have been various incidents of unruly behaviour by passengers onboard flights. Under DGCA norms, unruly behaviour can even attract life time ban on flying.
On January 23, an unruly male passenger was offloaded from a SpiceJet plane at the Delhi airport after he allegedly touched a female cabin crew in an inappropriate manner.
On January 7, two foreign nationals were offloaded from a Mumbai-bound Go First flight from Goa after they allegedly misbehaved with a woman cabin crew member.
At least three incidents of unruly passenger behaviour onboard two Air India international flights last year came to light in recent weeks. Among others, there was also an incident onboard a Thai Smile Airways plane from Bangkok to Kolkata last month.
(Edited by : Soham Shetty)