• Civil Aviation Ministry suggests shifting from airport-based security to aircraft-based security at smaller airports

    The civil aviation ministry has suggested a shift from airport-based security to aircraft-based security at smaller airports to minimise cost of flying on regional routes, an idea that has not found favour with experts.

    The suggestion, which marks the first time the government has thought of economising on security in aviation sector, is part of the new aviation policy that was sent for interministerial consultation earlier this month.

    “The sole intent is to keep the cost of flying low for regional flights, where we plan to fix fares at Rs 2,500 per hour, and is part of the policy,” said an aviation ministry official, requesting not to be named.

    The official said the plan is to make security aircraft-based or flight-based at the small airports. “Under the plan, the airport will be sanitised about two hours before the flight is to arrive and the security will move out of the airport about one hour after the flight departs. Otherwise, the airport will not be used and will have minimal security,” he said.

    This will help keep the cost low, he said. Analysts, however, slammed the idea on the grounds that aviation security cannot discriminate on the size of the aircraft or airport.

    “The risk of a hijack is the same for a big and small aircraft. Aviation security cannot be lax at airports that are small or have regional flights,” said Shakti Lumba, former head of operations at Air India and IndiGo.

    The ideas, if implemented, will lead to further problems, Lumba said. “What if the flight is delayed or an aircraft is grounded at an airport that does not have security. It simply cannot work like the way it has been suggested only because the government wants to keep the cost low,” he said.

    According to the National Civil Aviation Policy 2016, which is likely to be taken up by the Cabinet by the end of this month, the ministry intends to roll out regional flights at 30 airports which have the infrastructure in place. The government has decided to subsidise airlines for their cost of flying passengers beyond the fixed tariff of Rs 2,500 per hour.

    The policy proposes to charge Rs 8,000 per landing or take off on domestic flights by planes with 80 or more seats to fund the subsidy for regional flights. This levy will help generate an estimated Rs 500 crore annually.

    Apart from the subsidy, the government plans to offer concessions such as a flat 2% excise duty on fuel at regional airports for three years and 1.4% service tax on regional flights for one year. Excise duty on aviation fuel is 14% at present, while airlines have to pay a 5.6% service tax on tickets. A.J. Klein Jersey

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