India to Promote Competition in Ground Handling Services.

New Delhi, Feb 1 (PTI) A policy to encourage competition in the security-sensitive ground handling services at major metro airports wastoday cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CNS).

"There will be three ground handling agents at the airports. They will be the airport operator or its subsidiary, a subsidiary of Air India and the Indian and a ground handler selected through competitive bidding," Finance Minister P Chidambaram told reporters after the CCS meeting chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The Civil Aviation Ministry had earlier finalised the draft policyfor allowing at least three players to undertake these services at major airports like Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

Chidambaram said the defence enclaves had been kept out of the ambit of the policy and a separate scheme would be worked out for them.

As the ground handling services were considered sensitive, the ground handler selected for each airport would have to abide by strict security protocols, the Finance Minister said.

The players who would be allowed under the new policy would be theAirports Authority of India or the private-led joint venture partners at these airports, the state-owned Air India or the Indian or theirsubsidiary and an independent agency chosen by the competitive bidding process.

Ground handling activities broadly mean the handling of passengersand baggage at the airport, loading or unloading of the aircraft andactivities relating to the ramp, refuelling and cleaning of aircraftand push-back facilities. The annual revenue generated from ground handling operations is estimated at about Rs 1,000 crore now and is expected to grow rapidly, with private players taking the plunge into this lucrative segment once it is opened up.

Earlier, the Union Home Ministry had suggested the creation of an independent agency for ground handling operations due to the sensitivity from security point of view.

The agency, as per the Ministry, would have comprised of representatives from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security, CISF and AAI.

But the Ministry, after wide-ranging consultations, decided to enhance competition from private players to ensure quality service for the airlines.

The erstwhile NDA government was also keen on restricting the number of players in this area of airport activities after a few incidents of security breaches were reported.

The move was also opposed by some domestic airlines on the groundsthat it could affect their services as the airlines or agencies undertaking ground handling could be in competition with them.

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