Taxing air passengers

Special Correspondent

Private carriers to levy surcharge

Minister expresses `total disagreement'`Kingfisher will not roll back the levy'

NEW DELHI: Imposition of an air traffic congestion surcharge on all fares by major private airlines has become a bone of contention between the private carriers and the Civil Aviation Ministry.

Though Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel ruled out taking action against the private carriers, he gave vent to his displeasure, voicing `total disagreement' with such a step.

``I am completely in disagreement with the decision to hike fares in the name of air traffic congestion. If the airlines wanted, they should have simply hiked their fares,'' Mr. Patel told reporters here. He said traffic congestion was only at Delhi and Mumbai airports and that too only during peak hours. ``Therefore, increasing fares by Rs. 150 across the board on the pretext of congestion is unacceptable," he said.

The Minister said the Government did not want to be associated with any step to regulate airfares. ``It will be decided by the market forces,'' he added.

State-owned carrier Indian had also considered the idea of increasing fares under the surcharge but shelved it after the views of the Civil Aviation Minister became known.

ATF prices

Private carriers, including Jet Airways and Kingfisher have decided to impose Rs. 150 traffic surcharge on each ticket. Kingfisher has maintained that it would not roll it back. Official sources were unclear if the private carriers could be allowed to impose any kind of `surcharge or tax' as it fell under the domain of the Government.

Airlines have argued that it costs about Rs. 2,000 per minute when the aircraft is holding over an airport and at current Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) prices, even taxiing on the ground costs about Rs. 560 per minute. The Minister has suggested that instead of all airlines flying during peak hours, they could consider mounting flights at different times.