Four Air India (AI) flights have flown out of Thiruvananthapuram international airport to destinations in Gulf since Tuesday without any export cargo after exporters commenced boycotting the flights of the national carrier following a steep increase in fuel surcharge on perishable export cargo.

Airport sources said the flights of AI to Abu Dhabi and (IC) Sharjah on May 1 and those to Muscat and Riyadh on May 2 were that went without any perishable export cargo following the decision of the national carrier to increase fuel surcharge on perishables by Rs.8.50 per kg through two circulars.

With this, the fuel surcharge in the national carrier had gone up to Rs.15.50 per kg. The flight to Abudhabi had a cargo space of 1,500 kg, three tonnes each of cargo space on the flight to Sharjah and Muscat and 12 tonnes on the flight that left from here to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia.

Although the exporters did not offer any perishable cargo to the flights of the national carrier, they made the shipments from Thiruvananthapuram through the flights of foreign carriers operating from the Gulf sector to honour their commitments. Exporters are worried whether the foreign carriers that operate in the Thiruvananthapuram-Gulf sector will follow suit.

As many as 25 exporters are engaged in the export of perishable cargo from the State capital and on an average, the airlines charge Rs.45 per kg for the shipment to the Middle East. The war surcharge levied on freight by the national carrier after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1991 is still continuing as security charges even after two decades, it has been pointed out.

The national carrier's market share, at least in Kerala, during the period that elapsed, is less than 25 per cent and the AI's initiative to increase the freight charges had been followed suit by the foreign carriers.

Over 98 per cent of the commodities lifted from the Thiruvananthapruam International Airport to the Middle East are perishables like fresh vegetables and fruits , and processed food.

Appexa's demand

The Agricultural Products and Processed Foods Exporters Association (Appexa) has, in a letter to the Station Manger of the AI, said the increase in fuel surcharge on perishables is “unwarranted, unjustifiable and unaffordable.”

Keywords: Air India