In a recent development, Ahmedabad airport, owned by the Adani Group, has found itself embroiled in a dispute over proposed increases in user charges for charter flights during the ongoing ICC Cricket World Cup. The move has triggered backlash from major airlines, leading them to seek government intervention, citing concerns about the legality and affordability of these sudden hikes.

Airlines Protest the Sudden Charge Hike

A report by The Economic Times (ET) has shed light on the airline industry‘s dissatisfaction with the substantial ground handling charge increase, which exceeds tenfold. Airlines argue that this sudden escalation is not only illegal but also threatens to make charter operations financially unviable.

AERA Takes Action

The Airport Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA) responded to the controversy by issuing a notice. In this notice, AERA declared that imposing charges and tariffs without the authority’s authorization is illegal. The regulatory body expressed concern over airport operators resorting to unethical conduct by imposing unapproved charges. AERA has instructed all airport operators to refrain from imposing charges that have not received its approval.

AERA has also summoned the top management of Ahmedabad airport to a meeting scheduled for Monday, indicating its intent to address the issue directly.

Exorbitant Charges Unveiled

The tariff list released by Ahmedabad airport in September revealed the extent of the proposed charges. For charter flights carrying more than 15 passengers, the airport demanded a minimum of Rs 265,000 as general aviation charges. Additionally, a charge of Rs 17,667 per passenger beyond the 15-passenger threshold was to be imposed. The airport also added supplementary charges for special flights, such as those operated during the Indian Premier League, amounting to Rs 6,000 per passenger.

It is important to note that these charges are separate from landing and parking fees. Flights not registered with the airport operator for a specific season are categorized as charter flights, according to information provided to airlines.

Airline Bids and Cricket Tournament Implications

Sources informed ET that airlines like IndiGo, SpiceJet, and Vistara had submitted bids for a tender by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) to transport cricket teams during the tournament. However, the unexpected surge in airport charges rendered these flights financially unviable, leading the cricket body to refuse to pay the extra charges. In response, airlines began operating special charter flights to accommodate cricket fans from around the world.

During this period, Ahmedabad experienced an unprecedented influx of charter flights, with over 170 such flights, four times the usual traffic, transporting cricket teams and some of India’s wealthiest individuals. Ahmedabad had the honor of hosting the ICC Cricket World Cup opener and the high-profile India-Pakistan match.

Adani Airports’ Perspective

A senior official from Adani Airports defended the charges, asserting that AERA’s permission was not required because the additional fees did not qualify as aeronautical charges. The company is currently reviewing the charges and clarified that the surge in expenses was due to the need for additional personnel to manage the increased charter flight activity.

The official also pointed out that airlines were operating charters beyond normal operating hours, necessitating additional resources from the airport. Charter operations lack fixed schedules, and passengers on these flights require various additional services, all of which incur costs.

Government’s Position

A government official explained that the charges were imposed for ground handling services, which are crucial for aircraft operations. According to existing rules, services related to aircraft operations at airports fall under aeronautical services, and their tariffs are determined by AERA. Private airport operators are expected to act responsibly in this regard, the official emphasized.

In summary, the controversy surrounding Ahmedabad airport’s charter flight charges has sparked a heated debate within the aviation industry, prompting government intervention and raising questions about the legality and feasibility of these charges. The upcoming meeting with AERA and further developments will determine the resolution of this contentious issue.