The Times of India
ET Bureau, 4th June, 2012
Aviation ministry proposes abolition of service tax on air tickets & sales tax reduction on ATF
NEW DELHI: The aviation ministry has called for abolition of service tax on air tickets and reduction in sales tax on aviation fuel from an average 25% to a uniform 4%, proposals that may not only nurse bleeding carriers back to profits, but also rein in soaring fares. In a consultation paper released last Thursday, the ministry said the policy changes would bring in economic benefits to the tune of 45,000 crore, far outweighing the revenue loss to the exchequer, which is estimated at 3,750 crore.
The proposals are part of a larger action plan being drawn to develop India as an aviation hub. The ministry will discuss the plan with the Prime Minister's Office on Monday. "The total operational losses of all the (Indian) airlines for 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11 are approximately 19,000 crore," civil aviation minister Ajit Singh had told Parliament last month. He said 10,000 crore of losses were anticipated in 2011-12 alone. The minister said all domestic carriers, except IndiGo, were making losses.
The ministry has argued that knocking off service tax on air tickets would make them cheaper by at least 10%, providing relief to travellers stung by the dramatic rise in ticket costs in recent months. Airfares on major domestic and international routes have shot up 30-50% during April-May mainly because of the pilots' strike at Air India and the uncertainty surrounding Kingfisher Airlines. The International Air Transport Association, a lobby group of airlines, has welcomed the ministry's initiative.
"Aviation supports 1.7 million Indian jobs and contributes 0.5% to the country's GDP," said Amitabh Khosla, IATA's country director for India. "It has the potential do much more for the economy if the government would successfully deliver on the long-standing issues of taxation that are destroying the competitiveness of Indian airlines."
Experts believe that India's unique geographical location, tourism and trade potential offer the country a great opportunity to become a global aviation hub, but unimaginative policies have allowed other aviation centres such as West Asia and South-East Asia to flourish at India's expense. "An aviation hub's direct and indirect impact on employment creation, growth of commerce and government revenues is still not well appreciated," said Amber Dubey, partner and head (aviation) at global consultancy firm KPMG. "The need of the hour is to abolish all taxes like excise, import duties, sales tax and service tax on aviation for a period of 10 years."
Aviation turbine fuel accounts for 40% of Indian carriers' costs as against the global average of 20%, thanks to state governments levying sales taxes as high as 30%. Although states like Punjab have recently reduced the ATF tax rate to 4%, fuel sales levies remain high in Maharashtra and Delhi that host the largest air traffic.