The civil aviation authorities’ ambitious schemes to upgrade the industry are not likely to get off the ground, going by the latest proposal to double route, navigation and parking charges for airlines during peak hours at Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore airports. This is sought to be offset by halving charges between midnight and 5 a.m. Going by the state of our airports, a post-midnight domestic flight is not for the faint-hearted. The proposal raises alarm bells. As we have seen in the past, cosmetic changes like raising fees — that are pushed in as short-term measures till infrastructure is improved to decongest the airport — often end up becoming long-term measures.
Modernisation plans for Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore airports have repeatedly run into glitches. One, of course, is the political obstacle in the form of objections from the Left. It feels that modernisation necessarily means retrenchment. The other major problem is land acquisition, another political hot potato. Chennai airport’s modernisation plans have been grounded for the moment because at least 50,000 people may have to be relocated. Aviation infrastructure is still in an abysmal state and little has been done to upgrade facilities at airports or add to existing runways and parking bays. Yet, this has not stopped the aviation authorities from handing out licences to private operators, especially low-cost airlines. But having come into the field, they now find that the authorities have changed the goalposts. How is it possible for a low budget airline to keep fares under control if it suddenly finds that it has to fork out double the landing charges? The answer is that it cannot, and will have no option but to pass on the cost to the consumer. It is unfair to expect airlines to shift their flight timings to an unearthly hour and even more unfair to expect the travelling public to fall in line with the whims and fancies of the aviation bureaucracy.
Poor connectivity is the main reason why India does not attract the volume of tourist traffic that even other smaller countries do. The smaller and cheaper airlines were expected to help overcome that. But now, with costs going up, it would be no surprise if they cut back on their flights rather than opt to fly at inconvenient times.