It will take eight to nine years for the Navi Mumbai airport to be built, civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju told FE. The minister’s statement is in direct contrast to the ones made by the Maharashtra government body City and Industrial Development Corporation (CIDCO), tasked with the pre-development work for the airport, which has repeatedly said that the airport will become operational by the end of 2019.
For the record, the pre-development work is yet to be completed and the bidder that will partner CIDCO in constructing and maintaining the airport is yet to be finalised.
“The capacity constraint at the current Mumbai airport is a concern for all of us but constructing the new airport will take at least four years if the development work takes place efficiently. If we take into consideration the time taken to build a greenfield airport in Hyderabad and Bengaluru, it was more than eight to nine years. More so, this airport will be based on a marshy land unlike Bengaluru and Hyderabad, hence it will take more time,” Raju said in the course of an interview.
Speaking about the development of airports in the country, the minister said that R15,000 crore will be spent by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) towards this task in the next few years.
According to him, the financial condition of debt-ridden state carrier Air India is a matter of concern and the prevailing condition is a kind of ‘debt trap’; some kind of financial reconstruction is the need of the hour to bring down the interest cost. At present, Air India has a total debt of R50,000 crore and an annual interest outgo of almost R4,000 crore.
“Air India is a good airline and the wide range of international and domestic destinations it operates on is unparalleled. The airlines’ management should increase the level of discipline among its staff and work as a cohesive and efficient unit, otherwise the Union government cannot put the taxpayers’ money for eternity,” the minister said.
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Air India, which made an operating profit of R105 crore for the first time after the merger with Indian Airlines in FY16, has again posted operating loss in the first two quarters of the current financial year.
The ministry of civil aviation is now focusing on making the Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) a success. Under this, which 61 carriers have registered themselves in order to take part in the initial bidding, which is expected to start by the first week of January.
“We want the whole process to be transparent and whoever bids the lowest will get the viability gap funding on certain routes,” Raju said.
The ministry of civil Aviation earlier this year announced a national civil aviation policy, which the minister said is the first by any government so far.
Since airlines want jet fuel to be included under the goods and services tax (GST) and are eagerly waiting to understand the impact of the new tax regime on the import of the different type of aircraft, and whether it will lead to an increase in service tax on air tickets, the minister said that it is the finance ministry which will take a final call on the matter.
“As a department, we have requested the finance ministry to include ATF in GST and have also written to the state departments to reduce the taxes on the jet fuel. On the other hand, as a minister and a parliamentarian, we would want the federal structure to be in place. From the point of view of the aviation sector, it would be better to have ATF under GST,” the minister said.