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Airports Authority of India objects to proposal to let airlines carry out ground handling

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Airports Authority of India objects to proposal to let airlines carry out ground handling

NEW DELHI: The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has raised objections to the aviation ministry's proposal to allow airlines to carry out ground handling on their own, a plan that people in the know said was approved as part of the draft civil aviation policy despite the state-owned airport operator's opposition.

"We had said that allowing airlines to do ground handling themselves would go against the reasons for bringing in the Ground Handling Policy which has been cleared by the government in the past," said a senior AAI official, who did not want to be named. He said the policy's main aim was ensuring adequate security at the airports.

"The ministry is looking at it from the cost angle and not the safety angle," he said, referring to the new draft aviation policy that is expected to be cleared by the Cabinet by month-end.

"It (ministry) believes that allowing airlines to do ground handling would lead to cost savings for them." In 2007, the then government announced a Ground Handling Policy, which required airlines to outsource the job in New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bengaluru to any of these three: airport operator along with a partner, an arm of national carrier Air India or a company selected by the operator. Elsewhere, they could manage ground handling on their own or hire agents.

The 2007 move was stayed after airlines went to court, saying it would make operations more expensive and take away their unique selling proposition of providing extra services to passengers.

The court has yet to give a final verdict on the matter. The aviation ministry's proposal to allow airlines do ground handling had earlier been red-flagged by the home ministry, which too raised security concerns.

An aviation ministry official, however, said: "The concern over security was addressed by bringing in a rule to mandate airlines to hire people only on long-term contract (minimum one year) for ground handling. They have also been asked to hire employees on their rolls and not on contract from outside agencies."

ET View: Open Up the Ground Too

The marginal utility of opening up ground handling services may be quite limited at all the airports, except two of the biggest ones. Going forward, it makes sense to quantify standards and benchmark costs for ground handling. But, if for security reasons the status quo needs to be maintained, so be it. We certainly need opening up when it comes to fuel supply, aircraft maintenance and the like, along with an 'open skies' policy for competitive supply of a host of aviation services. A staggered opening up of ground handling seems sensible.

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