Thursday, December 24, 2020

Kolkata: After agency changed decision, airlines worry over timings

Kolkata: An eleventh-hour decision by the Airports Authority of India on terminating the services of ground handling agency (GHA) Bhadra International from January 1 has left officials of two airlines worried about on-time performance of flights from Kolkata due to the short time to migrate to another service provider.

Ground handlers are considered the wheels that run the airline industry. GHA provides a host of services that are crucial for aircraft operations, including guiding aircraft into and out of parking position, towing with pushback tractors, lavatory drainage, water cartage, airstart units, luggage handling, ground power, passenger stairs, wheelchair lifts and hydraulic mules.

Air India Air Transport Services Ltd (AIATSL), the only other GHA at Kolkata airport, currently handles multiple airlines, including Air India, GoAir, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Etihad Airways and Biman Bangladesh. It now has less than 10 days to recruit more workers and requisition additional machinery to service flights of AirAsia India and Vistara in the new year in addition to Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific and other carriers that are now serviced by Bhadra International.

IndiGo and SpiceJet have their own ground-handling teams.

“There is anxiety over the ability of AIATSL to meet the quicker turnover time of AirAsia India. Unlike Air India flights that have a 40 minute turnover — or the gap between a flight’s arrival and departure — AirAsia India has a turnover time of only 25 minutes. That essentially means the AIATSL unit has to function a lot more efficiently. Or else, there will be delays that can jeopardise the flight schedule and lead to losses for the airline,” said an airport official, who is aware of the concerns.

Since AIATSL will be the sole GHA facility available at Kolkata and Chennai, airlines fear monopoly will come in the way of efficiency. TOI attempted to contact AIATSL officials but the calls went unanswered.

Sources said the concerns expressed by airlines had led to the airport director holding multiple meetings with AIATSL officials. “They (AIATSL) have assured me that they are putting in place the requisite manpower and equipment needed to handle additional flights. There may be some teething problems for the first few days before they are sorted out,” said director Kaushik Bhattacharjee, adding that tenders would soon be floated for a second GHA for Kolkata that is expected to be functional in two-three months.

24/12/20 Times of India

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