Merchant, small cargo airports free to fix charges: Civil aviation ministry

Small private sector airports, known as merchant airports, would have the freedom to fix all aeronautical charges, including passenger fees. Merchant airports would not come under the purview of the Airports Regulatory Authority of India (Aera), India's civil aviation ministry has stated on Tuesday 18 September.

Airports handling less than 1.5 million passengers annually will be outside the purview of the regulatory authority. Small cargo airports will also enjoy this exemption. All aeronautical charges at cargo airports, including private ones, would be fixed by the operators and Aera would not intervene, it said.

A private airport with a licence to handle commercial aircraft would also not be regulated by the proposed agency till it starts handling over 1.5 million passengers annually, a senior official in the ministry of civil aviation said. As dedicated cargo airports are yet to be set up in the country, this category does not find mention in the Aera Bill. But once the need arises, changes will be notified, he indicated.

Civil aviation minister Praful Patel introduced a Bill to set up Aera in Parliament recently. The move is aimed at creating a level playing field for different categories of airports, including those operated by private operators.

The need to create a regulator arose due to frequent complaints of a mismatch between charges levied by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and the quality of services rendered at the airports it controls. Most civil airports, including civil enclaves at defence airports, are controlled by AAI. It fixes the charges for the airports, prescribes the performance standards of all airports, and monitors them.

Recently, a section of airline operators complained of airports charging higher fee for landing and other ground handling services. The proposed regulatory authority would regulate tariffs at all the 17 international airports, including Kochi and Amritsar, and the majority of non-metro airports.