The government is mulling over a proposal to impose a surcharge on airlines for operating flights during peak hours to enhance airport capacity and to avoid flight delays, according to Airports Authority of India (AAI) chairman Guruprasad Mohapatra.
Currently, landing fees paid by airlines are determined by the weight of an aircraft and do not vary according to the time of the day.
“We should not allow congestion to happen during peak hours. There is a large window of non-peak hours that we are persuading airlines to consider. In fact, we are considering whether we can introduce charges for flight operations during peak hours. A concept note is being prepared and global models are being studied. We want to encourage use of non-peak hours. This is right now at a proposal stage and a final decision is yet to be taken,” Mr. Mohapatra told The Hindu in an interview.
A government official cited the example of Heathrow Airport to make a case for peak-hour pricing. Heathrow introduced the formula in 1972 to check air traffic congestion, when it was already witnessing 72 movements during peak hours. It also levies a steep penalty on airlines that fail to be punctual.
An aviation industry insider with experience at a major airport said the move would help spread demand through the day and, if passengers can pay extra for more comfort and leg room, they would be willing to pay more to fly during popular timings, while leisure travellers looking for cheap fares will still have the option of flying at non-peak hours.
Airlines are awarded slots for summer and winter schedules on a first-come-first-served basis as well as on the historicity of slots. An airline is said to maintain historicity of a particular slot if it is able to operate flights during a given slot punctually 80% of the time for a period of six months or the length of an entire season.
Mr. Mohapatra said the matter was also discussed with airlines at a meeting. An airline executive said on the condition of anonymity that the move will not be welcomed by airlines as it will impose an additional charge on those already holding such slots without addressing the problem of air traffic congestion.
An airport typically sees four ‘peaks’ in a day. These are approximately between 6 a.m.-8.30 a.m., 10.30 a.m.-noon, 4 p.m.-6 p.m. and 7 p.m.-9.30 p.m.
Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Terminal and Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International airport are two of the most congested airports in the country and see up to 52 and 73 movements per hour (landings and take-offs), respectively, during peak timings.
A senior official from a domestic carrier said on the condition of anonymity, “We don’t welcome such a proposal. The move, if put into effect, is unlikely to change airline behaviour as peak-hour slots are almost impossible to get in large metros such as Mumbai and Delhi. It will become an additional charge on airlines holding peak-hour slots. A high-cost environment where airlines pay high fees for airport infrastructure as well as fuel is counter-productive to the growth of a burgeoning market like India.”
Mr. Mohaptra said that AAI is preparing a plan to increase Delhi’s hourly capacity over the next three years, which will be presented to the Ministry of Civil Aviation. He said measures will also be taken to ensure airlines are punctual, as well as to reduce congestion at the Mumbai airport by measures such as replacing flights operated by smaller aircraft such as ATR72 with bigger planes like A320s where two stations are capable of handling the bigger aircraft.
He said Mumbai sees 12 ATR flights daily. These small planes serve up to 70 passengers and take longer to taxi and pushback.