Open skies, pricey airport

WEB DESK: It appears there are so many international air carriers touching down at Pakistani airports that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has had to take steps to discourage congestion.

At least, that’s the explanation by the CAA for the announcement that air navigation charges have been raised by 25 percent, effective August 1, 2015. The authority has also raised airport charges that are paid by travellers.

According to news sources, the CAA defended the decision by terming the rate increase as minuscule; and asserting that the higher navigation charge will reduce congestion at airports in Islamabad and Lahore.

The hike in charges has drawn a strong rebuke from the International Air Transport Association, the representative body of the aviation sector. In an appeal to rescind the rate hikes, IATA has called on the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Aviation; Capt. Shujaat Azeem. However, despite their clamouring, the rate hikes went into effect over the weekend.

Besides adding to the cost of air travel for passengers in the country; the higher rates may also mean longer transit stays for travellers from Pakistan. Many international carriers, particularly those that connect to Europe and the Americas; operate in cognizance of European night-time curfews.

If the international operators serving Pakistan actually react with the response that the CAA wants, it would mean changes in their flight timings for airports in the country. However, given the relatively lower proportion of Pakistani travellers in the region’s air travellers; it is highly unlikely that these airlines will change flight timings for other routes. Put simply, the CAA’s intended response would mean more stress for travellers to and from Pakistan.

The imposition of successive charges, fees and taxes on air travel in the country also runs contrary to the stated designs of the current government for this sector. Mere weeks have passed since the new Aviation Policy was touted for having created space for more international carriers to fly our skies.

Whether the quantum of the recent hike is hefty or miniscule; it is a hike never the less. And that extra money will come out of the pockets of mostly, Pakistanis travelling for employment or for business. Perhaps the hike is best viewed in the broader context of the country’s approach to taxation; letting incomes go untaxed, but stifling all forms of expenditure with charges.

It is ironic that air travel is charged like a luxury in an economy that is heavily dependent on remittances from workers overseas; and exports by businesses that must travel to other countries to build business because most buyers are reluctant to come here.

Source: BR research