Debate erupted on social media platform Twitter on June 6, over allegations that Air India was charging fuel charges twice on fares for flights part of the Vande Bharat Mission.
Twitter users pointed out that the national carrier twice charged for fuel costs. First, as part of the 'fare,' and additionally as fuel surcharge.
One Twitter user said:
Joining the debate, Shakti Lumba, an aviation veteran and former Executive Director, Airline Operations (Alliance Air), and Vice President, Ops (IndiGo), wondered why there was no fare cap on international flights run by Air India. "Vande Bharat is a self-created monopoly market after banning international flights," he said.
The government had banned international flights after the national lockdown. For Vande Bharat Mission, Air India has got the lion share of flights, with IndiGo being the only private airline
to join the exercise.
Contending the charge, Jitendra Bhargava, a former executive director at Air India, said that this was 'not a correct interpretation on fares. "Fares cannot be compared to usual fares, dictated by competition, when costs do not necessarily get covered. Fare being charged is much less than that charged by foreign carriers for operating similar repatriation flights," he said.
Earlier in the month, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri had also taken to Twitter to comment on the issue:
But a senior executive from the industry disagrees. "The fare comparison by is highly misleading, as foreign charters are forced to fly their aircraft into India empty. Therefore their fares have to pay for both legs. Air India is charging full fare in both directions, flying full planes at full fare in both directions," he said.
Moneycontrol did a check on the Air India website to understand the fare break-up on Delhi-Chicago flight on June 11. The total fare for an economy seat came to Rs 1,04,997. This included 'fare' of Rs 71,750. There was no break up available on this. Additionally, there was a fuel surcharge of Rs 26,341.
As there was no break-up available on the 'fare,' it was not possible to know if fuel charges were included twice.
Moneycontrol has written to Air India on the issue, and will update the story once the airline responds.
Though recently rates of air turbine fuel were increased for domestic airlines - by nearly 50 percent - industry executives point out that the fuel cost for Air India is lower as it pays the International rate and not the domestic one.
The controversy over fuel charges rose even as there was a rush on Air India's website on June 5 to book for the third phase of Vande Bharat flights.
"Our website, opening at 5 pm, yesterday saw exceptionally high traffic with over 60 million hits at peak & 22000+ seats for #VBM 3 sold till now in a transparent manner. Heavy rush, however, slowed down the website at times," Air India said on Twitter.
The bottleneck can be avoided, point out executives from private airlines. "This is monopolistic. Especially as Air India is selling the outbound India flights on their website and app as regularly scheduled commercial flights. And on the inbound the embassies are selecting who gets to travel, and those pax pay full fare," said the senior executive quoted above.