The Telegraph
Monday , January 21 , 2013
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Terminal ills gone, turbulence stays

- Mamata pleads for more air traffic but makes light of bottlenecks

Calcutta finally has an airport to be proud rather than ashamed of but the Rs 2,300-crore facility is only half the battle won for fliers.

“This grand-looking terminal has walkalators, U-shaped check-in islands, aerobridges and enough seating for everyone. But how well it serves the city depends on when the state government addresses certain problems beyond our control,” a senior official of the Airports Authority of India said on the sidelines of Sunday’s inauguration.

According to officials, the three extraneous factors on which hinges the success of the long delayed integrated terminal are tax on aviation turbine fuel, transport options and the road to the airport. Metro highlights the hurdles.

Turbine fuel tax

The price of aviation turbine fuel in Calcutta is among the highest in the country and has often been cited as one of the reasons for the reluctance of airlines to start operating from the city or add flights.

The December 2012 price of aviation fuel in Calcutta was Rs 75,166 per kilolitre, against Rs 67,709 in Delhi and Rs 68,392 in Mumbai (Source: Indian Oil Corporation).

At present, the tax applicable on aviation fuel is 28 per cent, steep in comparison to that in other metro cities. The tax rates are 20 and 25 per cent in Delhi and Mumbai respectively.

“For the airport to become viable, more airlines need to operate from here. And we need the state government’s help to bring them on board. The rate of VAT (value-added tax) on aviation turbine fuel is very high and we have already requested the state government to reduce it,” said V.P. Agrawal, the chairman of the Airports Authority of India.

He said the civil aviation ministry and airline operators had requested Bengal to reduce VAT on aviation fuel by four to five per cent.

Agrawal said Raigarh airport was a classic example of a reduction in VAT on aviation turbine fuel triggering a spurt in air traffic. “The tax was reduced and within one-and-a-half years, flights increased by 200 per cent.”

Fuel is the single largest cost component in the airline business, accounting for between 35 and 40 per cent of the total expenditure. “Airlines globally run on a slim profit margin of two to three per cent. Even a one per cent difference in fuel price has a huge impact on operations,” said Capt. Sarvesh Gupta, the chairman of the airline operators’ committee for Calcutta airport.

A senior finance department official insisted that the difference in aviation fuel prices in the other cities and Calcutta “isn’t much and certainly not a problem”.

Airport links

Intra-city connectivity with the airport has remained a sore point for fliers, a problem highlighted by Metro in a series of reports.

“The government should ensure that the Metro rail projects linked with the airport are completed fast. In Chennai, Metro connectivity was completed by the time the new terminal became operational last year,” an official said.

In Calcutta, work on the proposed route from Dum Dum to Barasat via the airport has been stalled. The reason? The state government’s failure — some say reluctance — to evict and rehabilitate encroachers despite the railways offering land.

According to the original schedule, the Garia-airport route should have become operational by 2015-16 along with the Barasat-Dum Dum line. The Garia line too has been affected by encroachment and work has been stalled at several points.

The taxi booths at the airport are now better managed than they were a year ago but the real test would be the expected surge in passengers. According to a preliminary estimate, the daily peak-season passenger count is expected to increase by around 3,000 in the first year itself.

Buses to and from the airport are currently inadequate. The last air-conditioned bus from the airport stops plying long before the final landing of the day, leaving many passengers with little choice but to hire taxis at exorbitant fares. A till-midnight service has been promised.

Approach to airport

Any flier caught in a snarl on VIP Road en route to the airport would testify that it is a trigger for temporary hypertension. Airline officials say that on an average 10 to 12 passengers miss flights every day because of snarls on VIP Road, sometimes at the mouth of the approach road to the airport.

Jessore Road, encroached on both sides, is equally notorious for snarls that add to the congestion on VIP Road.

The bottleneck at the VIP Road-Jessore Road intersection is so stifling that vehicles are forced to use a slip road through the airport. The resultant rush makes catching a flight uncertain even after entering the airport premises.

Just ask the National Security Guard. The country’s elite commando force, which has set up base 8km from the airport, has twice failed to send a team to the airport in the stipulated time as part of a drill.