Plus & Minus

“A weekly column: Plus&Minus will be published in Hindustan Times, Jaipur Live. This will speak to the ordinary reader on contemporary economic issues in a simple format”.

    Buttressing airport facilities for more tourists, but…
    Hindustan Times, Jaipur Live, July 20, 2009

By Pradeep S Mehta

Last week I wrote about the central budget and its implications on taxpayers. This week I do not propose to dwell on the state budget, as much has already been written about in the press and these pages. But, I will address one critical issue which can help create more jobs in the state. That is tourism, and all that goes into enabling it to happen more comfortably.

The state has taken a step forward in addressing a key concern, i.e. aviation fuel tax, which is crucial to enable more flights to operate in Rajasthan and bring in more tourists. This is purely under the state’s jurisdiction. The tax on aviation fuel was as high as 28 percent and has now been brought down to 4 percent. I have never understood as to why the rate was so high when the taxes from aviation fuels contributed just a piddly Rs. 80 crores, which is even less than 0.1 percent of the whole commercial taxes earnings of about Rs. 9,000 crores per annum. Most other states in India too charge low tax rates.

Better late than never. This step will attract airlines to use the Jaipur airport to save on fuel costs. In view of the clogging of the Delhi airport, some airlines have been mulling over the prospect of using Jaipur as a hub. That will now happen faster.

We now also have spanking new airport terminals in Jaipur and Udaipur with an expanded runaway to be able to handle bigger aircrafts. This can enable large number of international flights for several reasons. Firstly, both Jaipur and Udaipur are on the international tourist map, though served mainly by domestic flights. Tourists have therefore to fly to Delhi and Mumbai to travel to Jaipur and/or Udaipur.

What is surprising about the two new terminals is that there are no aerobridges for passengers to walk into jet aircrafts from the security area. There are plans to do so, but has not been done until now. For smaller aircrafts, buses will still be needed because they are too low for aero bridges to serve them. For jets, the passengers have to be ferried across in buses on the airside, which means more time loss and costs to the airlines. They have to use a large number of buses and each flight means carrying the passengers in several buses. Thus the burden of all this bad planning is passed on to consumers.

This seems to be an anachronistic trend in our country, and can be seen even in the very busy new terminals at Delhi and Mumbai. At both the new terminals there are large number of gates for passengers to be ferried across to their jet aircrafts. One does not know what was the wisdom in this retrogressive design. It is another story that airlines are not using aero bridges at the new private Bangalore airport because of higher costs.

The other anachronism is in the facilities on the ground side, i.e. different airlines use different x-ray machines to examine baggage which needs to be checked in. Thus the area is crowded by these machines. The same still exists at Jaipur and Udaipur airports, while in Delhi it is now done online i.e. you can check in your baggage at the airline counter without going through an x-ray machine. The technology is there, and one wonders why this was not used by the Airport Authority of India at Jaipur and Udaipur.

While the Jaipur and Udaipur airports are in the public sector, the Delhi, Mumbai, Kochi, Bangalore and Hyderabad airports are being managed by private sector. One hopes that the Civil Aviation Ministry will take a fresh look to address these incongruities, and enable smoother flow of passengers.

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