The Kerala Association of Travel Agents said here on Friday that the proposal to impose user fee on passengers flying out of the Thiruvananthapuram International Airport was aimed at torpedoing the development of the airport.

Addressing a press conference here, association president K.V. Muraleedharan and general secretary Channankara M.P. Kunju said the hefty user fee would divert passenger traffic from Thiruvananthapuram to the Nedumbassery and Chennai airports.

They said the State government was dragging its feet on acquiring land for the development of the domestic terminal and cargo complex. The user fee was aimed at scuttling the project, they alleged.

The Association said Thiruvananthapuram was the only airport developed without private participation where user fee was being imposed. There is no user fee at the Mangalore, Kozhikode, Chennai and Kolkata airports which were developed with funds allocated by the Civil Aviation Ministry, it noted.

“At Rs.755 per passenger, the estimated annual revenue from the Thiruvananthapuram airport works out to Rs.80 crore. Taking the annual increase in passenger traffic into account, the revenue is estimated to touch Rs.900 crore in 10 years, an amount almost three times the project cost,” Mr. Muraleedharan said.

“The State government cannot wash its hands off the decision of the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA) to impose user fee. The authority had to back off from its attempt to levy user fee from passengers at the Chennai and Kolkata airports in the face of stiff resistance from the Tamil Nadu and West Bengal governments.”

The association said Non-Resident Keralites in Gulf countries would be the worst affected by the user fee.

“The new terminal nearing completion has been designed to handle only 16.5 lakh passengers every year, a number that falls short of the estimated traffic. Several airlines and customs have complained of being allotted insufficient space in the terminal. The fee for car parking and visitors gallery is more than that levied at other airports,” Mr. Muraleedharan said.

The association said it would be forced to spearhead an agitation to force the government to withdraw the user fee.

Minister's letter

Meanwhile, Minister for Law and Parliamentary Affairs M. Vijayakumar has written to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Civil Aviation, conveying the State government's protest over the decision to impose user fee.

In the letter, he pointed out that the Thiruvananthapuram airport was developed not as a greenfield airport or on the Build-Operate-Transfer model with private participation.

“The proposals in the master plan for the development of the airport are yet to be implemented. The land for the new terminal, approach road and the bridge from the bypass road were provided free of cost by the State government…. The State will have to spend up to Rs.150 crore on land acquisition.”

Mr. Vijayakumar said the decision to levy user fee would pose a hurdle for the next phase of land acquisition and impose a heavy burden on the majority of passengers using the Thiruvananthapuram airport. He urged the Central government to review the decision.

DCC plea

District Congress Committee president V. S. Sivakumar has urged the Centre to withdraw the user's fee.

BJP demand

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Friday demanded the withdrawal of the user fee.

Party spokesman George Kurian told the media here that user fee was being collected in Delhi and Mumbai airports after spending around Rs.10,000 crore on build-operate-transfer basis. In Thiruvananthapuram, the total investment was only Rs. 285 crore of which the Airports Authority of India's contribution was Rs.45 crore. So, there was no justification for collecting fee on par with that in Delhi or Mumbai airports. Mr. Kurian added that the fee would lead to less number of passengers using the airport.