OLKATA: Airline officials are wary of flight disruptions from April 1 if the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) refuses entry passes to staff of ground-handling agencies outsourced by various airlines at the Kolkata and other Indian airports.
The current entry passes used by nearly 6 lakh staff of 400-odd ground-handling agencies at Indian airports are valid till March 31, 2017.
According to the National Civil Aviation Policy 2016, from April 1, 2017, airlines will only be permitted to hire staff from three registered ground-handling agencies at each airport. Air India Air Transport Services Ltd (AI ATSL) and Bhadra International are the two recognized agencies at Kolkata airport at present, though nearly a dozen other agencies operate here, providing services to Jet Airways, IndiGo, SpiceJet and Go Airways.
Other than 200-odd staff of AI ATSL and 350-odd people of Bhadra International, there are several other ground-handling agencies like JP Aviation Services, JSM Enterprise and MK Enterprise to whom airlines have outsourced various jobs including cleaning aircraft, loading and unloading baggage, providing wheelchair assistance and transferring baggage from aircraft ramp to arrival gate and from departure gate to aircraft ramp.
"In Kolkata, 2,000 out of 2,500 ground handling staff or four out of five persons engaged by various airlines are outsourced. Curbs on their entry into the airport could potentially ground 80% of flights," an official of a low-cost carrier said.
A similar attempt 18 months ago had evoked fears and protests from airlines that forced the civil aviation ministry to intervene and extend the passes.
Sushil Raina, convener of Airport Service Providers' Association, warns the move will be counterproductive as it will escalate costs and raise ticket prices. "We offer services to airlines at quarter of the fee charged by registered agencies. If there are only three agencies, they will form a cartel and further hike charges. Ultimately, fares will go up," said Raina.
Chairman of the Airlines Operators' Committee at Kolkata airport, Sarvesh Gupta, agreed. "Airlines will have to cough up more money for the services. That will raise operational costs of airlines. But I am hopeful BCAS will extend the validity of passes," he said.
While BCAS has cited security concern to justify its decision, Raina argued registered agencies would have to employ the very staff that now work with unregistered agencies.
The unregistered agencies are livid at being shunted out despite paying 32.5% of the billed value to airports as royalty fee while registered agencies like Bhadra International have run up huge dues. On January 6, AAI general manager (operations) Ajay Shiva issued a letter to directors of Kolkata, Chennai, Calicut, Mangalore, Trichy and Coimbatore airports to realise Rs 138 crore in dues from in 15 days.
Bhadra International chairman & MD Prem Bajaj said the company had since paid Rs 105 crore to AAI while the rest was in arbitration as AAI had not yet barred unrecognised ground handling agencies from operating at airports. "We have paid security deposit and invested in ICAO and IATA approved equipment worth crores. But AAI is yet to meet its part of the bargain and that has affected revenues," he said.