Mumbai: Two low-fare carriers—SpiceJet and GoAir—are pulling out of Kerala’s Kochi airport, citing high ground-handling fees, planned repair works on the runway and non-availability of slots in Mumbai to reschedule operations, even as the airport’s operator is considering concessions on the fees.
While SpiceJet withdrew from the airport on 14 April, GoAir plans to suspend operations from May.
S. Bharat, managing director of Cochin International Airport Ltd (Cial), said the company is examining the difficulties faced by the airlines and that it may consider a special package for all carriers. He wouldn’t elaborate.
The Kochi airport, India’s first airport built by a private sector firm, is charging a ground-handling fee of Rs35,000 while international airports of Bangalore and Mumbai are charging Rs18,000 and Rs2,500, respectively, for every single flight.
Cial was promoted jointly by the Kerala government, financial institutions, airport service providers, non-resident Keralites and a group of entrepreneurs.
Apart from the high ground-handling fees, which is affecting the lost-cost carriers more, Cial is also planning to close the airport runway for six months, starting November this year, to repair it.
“Our decision to suspend operations at Kochi airport stems from the fact that no new slots were assigned at Mumbai airport for airlines during the current schedule. In line with our strategy to increase flight frequency within our network, we had no other choice but to optimize our current slots in Mumbai,” said Go Airlines India Pvt. Ltd, that operates GoAir, in a email reply to Mint.
“To ensure continuity of our growth-driven flight operations, this operational revamp became necessary,” it added.
Currently, GoAir operates a Mumbai-Kochi-Mumbai service twice a day.
The runway will be closed for 10 hours every day for six months from NovemberSpiceJet Ltd’s chief financial officer Partha Sarathi Basu said the airline is withdrawing its flights in view of the airport’s closure for repairs. “Once the airport stabilizes, we will be operating out of Kochi,” he said. SpiceJet operates flights from Kochi to Mumbai and Banglore, twice a day.
Even though Basu denied that the carrier is pulling out of Kochi because of high ground-handling fees, a person familiar with the development said SpiceJet is withdrawing operations on account of high cost structure, besides non-availability of slots.
However, all low-fare carriers are not planning to pull out of the southern airport. For instance, Bruce Ashby, chief executive officer of IndiGo, promoted by InterGlobe Aviation Pvt. Ltd, denied any such plans. “We have no current specific plans to pull out of Cial although we may make some adjustments there or anywhere else for that matter going forward if we find better opportunities,” he said.
Wolfgang Prock-Schauer, chief executive officer of Jet Airways India Ltd, which operates the full service Jet Airways, too said his airline has no plans to pull out from Cial.
Mumbai airport has not given additional slots to domestic airlines for new routes in this summer schedule.
Low-fare carriers are increasingly finding it difficult to fill the mid-sized planes such as A320 or B737 that can accommodate 180 passengers.
“Despite the wise decision of reducing sales tax on ATF (aviation turbine fuel) by Kerala government, the current fee structure at Kochi airport remains one of the highest, if not the highest, in the country. Thus, resulting in unviable operations for low cost airlines,” GoAir said.
It also said the closure of the airport for some hours every day, mainly for domestic flights, has played a crucial role in its decision, adding that “as we would have had to suspend operations before the end of the year.”
A Cial statement on its website said: “It is proposed to close down aircraft operations on the runway during the months of November to May 2009, between 10am and 8pm every day to handover the runway for the recarpeting work to the consultants and the contractors.
“Because of the recarpeting work, there will not be any operational difficulties for the runway when it is opened for aircraft movements in the night and all types of aircraft can land and take off using the runway. It is expected that the entire recarpeting work can be completed in one working season of six months, starting from November to May 2009,” the Cial statement said.