Adani Group-owned Ahmedabad airport’s proposal to increase user charges for charter flights during the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup has sparked a backlash from major airlines, prompting them to seek government intervention, according to a report by The Economic Times (ET). The airport has raised ground handling charges by more than tenfold.
The airlines have asserted that this sudden hike is illegal and will render charter operations unaffordable.
On Friday evening, the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA) issued a notice stating that levying charges and tariffs not authorised by the authority is illegal. In the notice, AERA pointed out that some airport operators were imposing charges without seeking permission, resorting to unethical conduct. All airport operators have been instructed to refrain from imposing charges that the authority has not approved.
Sources have informed ET that AERA has also summoned the top management of Ahmedabad airport to discuss the issue, scheduled for Monday.
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The tariff list issued by Ahmedabad airport in September reveals that the airport demanded a minimum of Rs 265,000 as general aviation charges for any charter flight carrying more than 15 passengers. Additionally, it imposed a charge of Rs 17,667 per passenger beyond that threshold. The airport also imposed supplementary charges on special flights operated during the Indian Premier League, including Rs 6,000 per passenger.
These charges are in addition to the landing and parking fees. Any flight that has not been registered with the airport operator for a specific season will be categorised as a charter, as per information provided to the airlines.
Sources have disclosed to ET that airlines such as IndiGo, SpiceJet, and Vistara had bid based on previous charges for a Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) tender to ferry cricket teams during the tournament. The unexpected surge in airport charges makes these flights financially unviable, and the cricket body has refused to pay the extra charges. In response, airlines are operating special charter flights to accommodate cricket fans from around the world.
During this period, more than 170 charter flights, four times the usual traffic, transported cricket teams and some of India’s wealthiest individuals to and from Ahmedabad. The city has already hosted the ICC Cricket World Cup opener and the India-Pakistan match.
A senior official from Adani Airports has stated that AERA’s permission was not required, as the additional fees imposed are not aeronautical charges. The company is currently reviewing the charges and has clarified that the airport had to employ additional personnel due to the increased charter flight activity, which has raised expenses.
The official also highlighted that airlines are operating charters beyond the normal operating hours, necessitating extra resources from the airport, as charter operations do not adhere to a fixed schedule. Additionally, passengers on charter flights require various additional services, all of which incur costs.
A government official explained that the charges have been imposed for ground handling services, which are critical for aircraft operations. The rules unequivocally state that any airport-related services related to aircraft operations fall under aeronautical services, with tariffs determined by AERA. Private airport operators are expected to act responsibly, he added.