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Pvt airlines call off strike
That the strike was about to fizzle out became clear after reports that another budget carrier Spicejet was also pulling out of the strike
Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 2
Private airlines’ strike has crash landed much before the proposed August 18 takeoff. After low-cost carrier IndiGo slunk back into the line yesterday night following government’s tough talk, others followed suit today. The Federation of Indian Airlines (FIA) announced that the August 18 strike was off and now the private airlines were looking forward to a constructive dialogue with the government.

That the strike was about to fizzle out became clear after reports that another budget carrier Spicejet was also pulling out of the strike. Thereafter it was just a matter of time when others would also make announcements that they would not be part of the strike that not just had Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel fuming, but air passengers advocating invoking ESMA against them.

Threatening to take airlines to the court for causing harassment, angry air passengers had started questioning as to how they were responsible for the airlines getting into losses. Close to one lakh passengers board domestic flights across the country everyday with the majority of them choosing private airlines.

Under attack from the government and passengers, the agitating private airlines, which were demanding help from the government to pull them out of the financial crunch, had kept bookings open for customers for August 18, the day airlines had decided to suspend flights in protest against high aviation turbine fuel and airport charges. This in itself was an indication that the government’s crackdown had the desired effect.

Sources say the strike was more or less a battle of industry majors Kingfisher and Jet Airways. Low-cost carriers IndiGo and Spicejet, which are fairing relatively better, were keen to peel off from the decision since they wanted to be seen apart from the ones not doing well. They wanted to operate since they did not want this arm-twisting blot on their profile, they add.

Airlines are now ready to engage in a dialogue with the government and negotiations are expected to take place tomorrow. Civil Aviation Ministry officials say Patel will be back in the country tonight. “Any decision on when the talks will be held is likely to be taken tomorrow,” they say.

The Civil Aviation Minister, who, in the past, has been accused of being soft on private airlines, adopted a tough stand on the strike call. Aviation experts say he may once again ask states to bring down taxes on air turbine fuel, which is adding maximum to airlines’ woes and is also a legitimate demand. He may also tell airport operators to rationalise charges.

India has the highest cost structure for aviation in the world, largely because of higher taxes on fuel. Jet fuel accounts for almost half of the operating costs for airlines in the country.

The sales tax on ATF ranges from 4 to 36 per cent depending upon the state. The FIA, which initiated the decision for the strike call, wants the government to classify jet fuel as “declared good” to tax it at a uniform rate of 4 per cent throughout the country.

Private airlines have also been asking the government to step in for rationalising airport charges, which have increased ever since private players have stepped in the field.

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