New Delhi: Top officials of Indian airlines September 23 raised issues afflicting the aviation sector like high jet fuel cost and airport charges as the government said it would soon finalise a policy to enhance connectivity to regional destinations and remote areas. The issues came up for discussion at a meeting here convened by Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju, which was attended by top officials of airlines including Air India, Jet Airways, IndiGo, SpiceJet and start-up Tata-SIA carrier Vistara.
“We wanted to interact with the airlines, take their inputs and hear their problems… We told them that we are trying to evolve a policy to make aviation a vibrant sector,” Raju said after the two-hour-long meeting. Issues like lowering of sales tax on aviation turbine fuel (ATF), the rule which allows an Indian carrier to fly abroad after they operate domestic for five years and have 20 planes, promoting of air connectivity to remote and regional airports and enhanced utilisation of bilateral air traffic rights by Indian carriers, came up for discussion.
Asked whether the government was considering viability gap funding to promote remote and regional air connectivity, the minister said, “It is not ruled out. But how it can be done is to be examined. In the northeast, it is being done by DONER (Ministry) and for Andaman-Nicobar by the state government.”
The Civil Aviation Ministry has come out with a policy on remote and regional connectivity, various provisions of which the airlines have been opposed by the Indian carriers. The Centre is keen that state governments also join hands to promote air connectivity to remote areas and Tier-II and III cities in various regions.
This would be possible only if operational costs of the airlines are reduced to minimum and the states can contribute by bearing some operational expenses, including slashing ATF tax rates, the minister is understood to have stressed while elaborating on the draft policy on promoting air connectivity to regional and remote areas. The government also wants Indian airlines to take up more international routes, as large chunks of bilateral air traffic rights have remained unutilised while foreign carriers were using them to a large extent to wean away Indian travellers.