BREAKINGVIEWS - Indian airlines get the wrong help

MUMBAI Tue Feb 7, 2012 5:14pm IST

A passenger aircraft is silhouetted against the rising moon in New Delhi May 7, 2009. REUTERS/B Mathur/Files

A passenger aircraft is silhouetted against the rising moon in New Delhi May 7, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/B Mathur/Files

Stocks

   

MUMBAI (Reuters Breakingviews) - Two wrongs don't make a right. India's beleaguered aviation sector needs a boost. But letting airlines avoid punitive state taxes by directly importing fuel isn't smart. Some tax is necessary to pay for environmental costs. The real target should be the subsidy given to loss-making state-owned Air India.

The sector as whole is predicted to lose around $3 billion in the fiscal year ending in March 2012, according to the Center for Asia Pacific Aviation. The cumulative debt burden of the three big carriers -- Kingfisher (KING.NS), Air India and Jet Airways (JET.NS) -- is $16 billion. Air India's debt alone is $8.8 billion. Kingfisher has struggled to buy fuel and pay salaries, airport charges and interest to its lenders.

A ministerial panel is proposing that firms are allowed to import fuel directly. If the cabinet approves the plan and the logistics can be made to work, this will have a big impact on firms' costs. State taxes on aviation fuel average around 24 percent -- the second highest in the world. And fuel accounts for around half of operating costs.

But there are two problems with the plan. First, while India's taxes may be excessive, slashing them to zero is not the answer. The industry's environmental costs should be paid for by taxation. Second, India actually has a surplus of jet fuel and exports half of its production annually. Creating an incentive to import fuel looks dumb. Reducing tax levels to international norms would be better.

What's more, the elephant in the room is Air India. The national carrier racks up monthly losses of $122 million. In the same breath as the fuel announcement, the ministerial panel also recommended that state-owned banks should reschedule $1.5 billion of the carrier's current debt over the next 10 years. This is just the latest example of state aid which allows Air India to finance a price war that has queered the pitch for the entire industry. The real priority should be to force the flag carrier to improve efficiency, so weaning it off subsidies -- or even wind it down.

CONTEXT NEWS

-- Indian airlines may be allowed to directly import jet fuel, Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said on February 7. A ministerial panel also approved a $1.5 billion debt restructuring plan for Air India. Both decisions will need final approval from the cabinet.

-- The announcement caused shares across the sector to rise sharply. Kingfisher Airlines surged to its maximum daily limit of 20 percent, while SpiceJet and Jet Airways rose 19 percent and 16.8 percent respectively.

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

(Editing by Hugo Dixon and David Evans)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (1)
puffs wrote:
agree on one point that the state taxes should have been drastcally reduced to help the beleagured indian aviation sector…also by not givig any aid to air india the govt would have projected a wrong picture of itself by letting a profit making national carrier ( about 8yrs back) to die due to the govt and its ministers and bureaucrats wrong decision making …thus the govt wants to redeem itself in the minds of the indian people by playing a populist tune before crucial elections and that of a face saviour…

Feb 07, 2012 9:04am IST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

FRESH RULES

A man speaks on his mobile phone in front of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) seal at the RBI headquarters in Mumbai July 30, 2013. REUTERS/Vivek Prakash/Files

RBI says all companies must apply 2-step payments for credit cards

The Reserve Bank of India said that all transactions involving domestic credit cards must follow rules requiring additional verification, a stance that could impact companies such as Uber Technologies Inc that provide more simple app-based purchases.  Full Article 

REUTERS SHOWCASE

Record Highs

Record Highs

Nifty touches record high; software stocks gain.  Full Article 

New Adviser

New Adviser

Arvind Subramanian likely to be chief econ adviser.  Full Article 

Pricing Mechanism

Pricing Mechanism

Govt sets up a four-member panel to re-examine gas pricing.  Full Article 

Royalty Rates

Royalty Rates

India to hike iron ore royalty, miners may struggle to pass on extra cost.  Full Article 

Diesel Deregulation

Diesel Deregulation

Oil ministry to seek Cabinet nod on diesel deregulation - sources  Full Article 

Commodities

Commodities

Gold near two-month low; set for weekly drop on interest rate fears  Full Article 

Reuters Exclusive

Reuters Exclusive

Apple iPhone 6 screen snag leaves supply chain scrambling   Full Article 

Helping Regional Mills

Helping Regional Mills

Govt raises sugar import duty to 25 pct from 15 pct.  Full Article 

Curbing Risks

Curbing Risks

RBI to lower ceiling on bank loans to a single corporate group.  Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage