HC asks Centre to respond to plea challenging Aviation Ministry order on carrying GPS devices on Commercial Flights

The Delhi High Court has sought the Centre’s response on a plea challenging a January 2023 order of the civil aviation ministry imposing a ban on carrying Global Positioning System (GPS) devices on commercial flights.

The high court issued notice to the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation on the petition which also sought a direction to the authorities to pay damages to the petitioner for “unlawful” seizure of his GPS device at Terminal 3 of the Indira Gandhi International Airport here.

A bench of Acting Chief Justice Manmohan and Mini Pushkarna granted the ministry four weeks to file its response and listed the matter for further hearing on April 2 next year.

The court was hearing a plea challenging the ban and seeking a direction to the authorities to decide his representation for damages. The petitioner also sought permission to carry GPS devices while travelling by air.

Petitioner Rahul Banerjee said since he is an environmental scientist and has to travel across India, a hand-held GPS device is an integral tool of trade for him.

His counsel submitted that on June 2, 2022, the petitioner’s Garmin’ GPS device was seized by the authorities at the airport even though he had travelled by air on previous occasions carrying the equipment in his hand baggage.

The lawyer said it subsequently turned out that carrying GPS devices on commercial aircraft was not prohibited at that time. The seizure of the equipment was in violation of extant law and under an erroneous impression that it was a satellite phone’, the counsel said.

The plea said the receive-only’ GPS device is incapable of being used as a satellite phone which requires both reception and transmission capabilities.

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The petitioner’s counsel submitted the union civil aviation ministry issued an addendum in January this year prohibiting the carriage of GPS devices during air travel, in the same manner as satellite phones.

This is in spite of the fact that import of hand-held GPS devices, which only receive satellite signals, has been free since 2011, and carrying them by air was permissible for at least 10 years, the plea said.

The counsel for the respondent submitted they are willing to return the petitioner’s GPS device and added they are also willing to decide the representation by way of a reasoned order.

However, Banerjee’s counsel pressed the petition, saying he wanted the issue to be dealt with thoroughly and the aviation ministry order withdrawn.

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