Airlines have claimed the surge in airfares is because of demand for seats that outstrips supply. But government figures indicate that in the last two months — the period that showed the increase in fares — domestic airlines flew with plenty of empty seats.
According to figures accessed by Hindustan Times, the total number of domestic seats available in the country per month is 62 lakh. In October 46 lakh passengers were carried by domestic airlines while around 51 lakh passengers are estimated to have travelled by air in November.
Estimates suggest airlines could not utilise about 5 lakh seats due to various reasons such as aircraft being grounded, they still flew with around 11 lakh empty seats in October while around six lakh seats went empty in November.
“These aren’t small numbers. The argument by airlines would have been valid had the demand been more as compared to the seats available — 62 lakh in the present case. But, as the figures indicate, they have been flying with substantial number of empty seats,” government sources said.
The government has asked all airlines to charge ‘reasonable fares’.
An official explained by reasonable fare, the government expected the airline to cover the operating cost and include a reasonable return on it. “If last year, a ticket was available for R10,000, how can it be sold for R20,000 today? It’s fair if you include increase in fuel prices, salaries and other cost,” the official said, giving the example of US, where the sector has been de-regulated since 1978, “but de-regulation does not mean no regulation” as all information is available in public domain.
Meanwhile, less than 24-hours after airlines filed tariff related information with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the aviation regulator has directed them to get back by Friday with information in a new format that is “user friendly”. It has also asked private operators to justify the high fares being charged on some routes.
DGCA chief EK Bharat Bhushan and his team found a number of “discrepancies” in the fare sheets submitted by airlines.
“It seems airlines just dumped the information. What they needed to do was simple: provide route, category and date wise fares. They have been asked to remove the abbreviations and to provide the final fare instead of just the base fare,” sources said.