Muscat: “Exorbitant” airfares charged by Indian airlines operating between India and the Gulf will be capped if the Indian government agrees to a proposal put forward by a parliamentary panel.
The panel notes that airfares from airports in Kerala to the Gulf sector are exorbitant, compared to foreign carriers offering the same flights for much less.
“Many of the travellers who are utilising the Gulf sectors are migrant labourers, and their helplessness should not be exploited by the airlines.” The panel recommends that the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) should intervene to control the artificially created exorbitant prices in the Gulf Sector,” the proposal says.
There are some three million Keralites working in Gulf countries, and the majority of them fly home every year, especially during the festival season when schools close for summer vacation in the Gulf countries.
“There is a huge difference in airfare between an off peak and the peak season to Kerala from Oman and other Gulf countries. Citing demand-supply theory during peak seasons, the airlines will up the airfares by at least 100 per cent,” a travel agent in Muscat said.
According to the travel agent, if a Keralite plans to travel in March, he has to pay OMR125 for a return ticket. But if he travels in June, the peak season, he has to pay some OMR225 for the same trip, which is an increase of 80 per cent.
Suresh Kumar, an Indian who works in Muscat, said that airlines are fleecing passengers, citing the demand and supply theory.
“Even if we book the tickets in advance, the prices are up, especially when the schools here close for summer vacation. This time, I am not travelling. I am going to send my family only. My office has capped the airfare amount.”
Due to high fares, that would not be enough for me to travel with my family. So, I have dropped my travel plans,” Suresh Kumar said.
“When oil prices went down, we expected that the fares would come down. But they didn’t. Whatever the condition is, airlines fleece passengers,” added Suresh, who hails from Kerala.
The panel also says in its proposal that even after a 50 per cent reduction in the Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) taxes over a period of time, the airlines have not passed on the reduction to consumers.
“The panel recommends that the ministry should take effective steps to ensure that the airlines pass on the benefit to travellers by reducing the air fares and inform the panel about the specific steps taken in this regard and the outcome thereof,” the proposal says.
Shibu S, an accountant in Muscat, said that he had booked a ticket from a budget airline to fly to India.
“With the allocation from my company, I can afford tickets only on a budget airline. That too, I booked it some six months ago,” Shibu added.
The fares differ with airlines,also. There are five Indian airlines operating between India and Omani cities.
The parliamentary panel says there are no existing rules to regulate airfares, following the repeal of the Air Corporation Act in 1994.
“The panel desires that the Ministry of Civil Aviation should specify the limitations, legal and otherwise, which need to be amended, or other measures to be put in place, to tackle this problem after consulting all the stakeholders. We are a developing country and many of the pricing mechanisms applicable to developed countries may not suit the Indian people and Indian conditions. The Ministry should consider fixing an upper limit for every sector, especially in the economy class of air fares,” the proposal stated.
Meanwhile, airline officials said that fares have already come down in recent months due to stiff competition.
“If you compare the fare prices, they are down,” a senior spokesman of an airline said.
“This is mainly because of increased capacity and more carriers flying to Oman.
“Earlier, there were only two flights to certain destinations. But now we have at least five to six flights in the same sector,” he said.
Last year, Oman’s Public Authority for Civil Aviation (PACA) signed a bilateral air services agreement with India’s Civil Aviation Authority to increase availability to 6,260 seats per week.