India’s Air Marshal increase surveillance on Kathmandu-bound flights

-KATHMANDU

The government of India has increased the number of sky marshals on flights to Kathmandu and Kabul, particularly from Delhi.

According to the Source, the patrol of Air Marshal has been started after the security forces and aviation agencies received an intimation of a possible hijack attempt of flights operating to these regions.

The government of Nepal is, however, unaware of the increase in air marshals on flights from India. The concerned government should be informed about the Air Marshal patrolling before being initiated.  The prior approval from the Home Ministry is required to increase the number of sky marshals but here the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Authority (MoCTCA), Joint-Secretary; Suresh Acharya stated that he was unaware about the situation. “The concerned bodies should be informed after getting approval from Home Ministry. But we don’t have any information about it,” he said.

India has deployed Sky marshals under the commandos handpicked from the National Security Guard on flights with Civil Uniform. Commandos are specially trained to counter hijack and hostage situations, which may arise on board a flight. Their identities are kept secret, officials said.

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A senior officer associated with aviation security confirmed that the number and frequency of sky marshals on flights bound for Kabul in Afghanistan and Kathmandu in Nepal have been increased. Requesting not to be named, the officer said the measure has been taken as certain threats were recently flagged on these routes by intelligence agencies. It is not certain when this threat perception will be called off, he said.

The number of sky marshals per flight varies from two to six, depending upon the threat perception on a particular route.

“They are mostly deployed on high-risk international flights to and/or from sensitive areas. Occasionally, they are deputed on domestic flights as well, following specific inputs. In a hijack situation, sky marshals are the only line of defense between passengers and hijackers. Their identity and positions in a flight are strategic,” the officer said, adding that they are known to be armed with pistols and guns with rubber bullets to neutralize offenders without damaging the aircraft. They also carry Tasers, handcuffs, etc.

A pilot from a budget domestic airlines said the identity of a sky marshal is kept secret. No one is aware of their presence on an aircraft, not even the airline officials. “It is at the last moment that the cockpit crew is informed about their presence. We know their seat numbers and how many of them are traveling. Nothing more is disclosed to us,” the pilot said.

In 2015, onboard a flight to Kathmandu, a flight steward had disclosed the sky marshal’s identity to passengers during an onboard announcement. The employee was put off duty by the airline for this error.

India started flying sky marshals after an Indian Airlines aircraft was hijacked, inbound flight to Delhi from Kathmandu by Harkat-ul-Mujahideen, a Pakistan-based terror group, on December 24, 1999.

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