Airports Authority of India (AAI) has commenced the process of appointing ground handling agencies for 83 state-run airports for a ten-year duration.

The officials told CNBC-TV18 that the aim was to reduce the number of ground handling workers on the airside, thereby averting the chances of any ‘untoward incident’ from occurring.

At present, Air India’s fully owned subsidiary AI Airport Services and Air India’s joint venture AISATS are two prevalent ground handling agencies in the country.

While some domestic airlines such as IndiGo and SpiceJet are performing self-handling at many airports with their regular personnel, others have entered a Memorandum of Understanding with third parties for such services.

On the other hand, international airlines depend on native ground handling agencies throughout their operations in India.

For the present process, the lowest annual guarantee for the first year will be the financial bid parameter for the selection of bidder, with the ten-year concession period from the commercial operations date.

An official was quoted by CNBC-TV18 as saying: “For airports where annual traffic is more than ten million, two bidders (H1 and H2) will be appointed, and for those airports where the traffic is less than ten million, we will appoint one bidder (H1).”

Therefore, depending on the category of the airport, two or one more agencies will join the other two popular ground handling agencies in the country.

As per the concession agreement, the concessionaire will make a monthly payment to the authority.

Earlier, a similar tender for 76 airports had to be annulled in 2019.

Another official informed: “Our past ground handling contracts at some airports have expired, so now we are permitting the airlines to enter into MoUs and get third-party services. Airlines have the permission to self-handle using their regular employees.

“We feel that as we have fixed and reduced the charges to be paid to AAI by ground handling agencies, they will be able to offer their services to airlines with a better price and a competitive environment will lead to better services. We cannot assure them any business but we are saying that they are permitted to offer these services and we are hopeful that all stakeholders will benefit from this.”

The process has entered the second stage, also known as the request for proposal stage.

The ground handling agencies are expected to be appointed by March.

In a separate development, Kempegowda International Airport in Bengaluru has installed disabled aircraft recovery equipment to enhance its runway emergency handling capabilities.

The airport has become the first in India and South Asia to own such a kit, which will allow faster resumption of operations in case of aircraft incidents on the runways.