The cost of safeguarding airports across the country is met by aviation security fee (ASF) of Rs 200 collected per passenger but the government now wants airports to partially bear the expenses.

The civil aviation ministry has asked airport operators to bear the cost of Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) deployment in cargo facilities, general aviation terminals (used by charters) and maintenance repair overhaul units.

The ministry’s decision applies to 35 private and Airport Authority of India-run airports. Currently, there are over 1200 CISF personnel posted in cargo, MRO and general aviation facilities at these airports. According to the ministry, the annual expenditure incurred on them is around ₹135 crore. There will, however, be no reduction in ASF collected from passengers because of the move.

The decision on the issue was taken in a meeting chaired by civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia on February 20 and conveyed to airports in March end. The arrangement shall be reviewed after six months, the ministry said in its communication to airports.

Security funding

At present CISF provides security cover to 68 airports across the country. Before 2019 the cost of deployment of CISF was handled on an airport-wise basis. This system was replaced with the creation of the National Aviation Security Fee Trust which manages a centralised mechanism for billing and payment. Domestic and international passengers are charged ₹200 and a rupee equivalent of $12 (GST extra) and proceeds are used for CISD deployment at airports. Apart from this housing and certain medical expenses of CISF personnel are borne by airports and same are reimbursed from ASF kitty.

“Cargo and MRO facilities are not used by passengers and so it is felt that CISF-related expenses in these areas can be borne by airports. These in turn can be recovered by airports from entities using the services,” a civil aviation ministry official said. Incidentally, the public accounts committee of the Lok Sabha had in 2021 recommended that burden of aviation security should not be passed on to passengers alone and costs should be equally borne by airports, airlines and vendors too.

Stakeholder concerns

Airports, however, are not happy with the change in policy. “The government has taken the decision without a proper stakeholder consultation,” said a senior airport sector executive. The ministry official said issue has been discussed with airports. Others in the sector believe that the government hopes to keep the existing ASF rate unchanged and take care of rising CISF deployment costs with this move.