India’s moribund ground handling policy

India’s ground handling policy is one that refuses to come out of the government closet for implementation, having seen three postponements in just over two years. Manfred Singh gives an overview of the evolving ground handling scene in India.

First scheduled to come into effect on 1 January 2009, then postponed to 1 July 2009 a new ground handling policy, necessitated by the rapidly developing aviation market in India, was postponed again to January 2010. But this time around the date was pushed backeven further, to a year later.

Initially approved by Parliament on 1 February 2007, the civil aviation ministry wanted to put an end to ground handling being done by private airlines like Jet Airways and Kingfisher Airlines. Desirous of keeping the ground handling more closely under its control, apparently for security reasons, the policy limited ground handling activities that involved passenger check-ins, baggage and cargo handling at the terminal and cleaning and refuelling of aircraft, to only three players at the country’s six major airports.

It then decided that the groundhandlers that would operate at Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Kolkata and Chennai airports would be Air India- Singapore Airport Terminal Services, the airport operator — GMR, the private operator in Delhi, GVK in Mumbai, BIAL in Bangalore and HIAL in Hyderabad and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) in Kolkata and Chennai — and the third to be selected by competitive bidding.

Rampant opposition
The move had been opposed by private airlines through the Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA) on behalf of Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, SpiceJet Ltd, Go Airlines (India) Pvt. Ltd (GoAir), Paramount Airways Ltd and InterGlobe Aviation Ltd (IndiGo). FIA has pointed out that a number of its member-airlines had invested in equipment and personnel at different airports and disbanding the department would not only result in a financial loss, but also put an end to around 10,000 jobs.