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Mumbai: Reeling from the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, the Indian aviation sector has sought the government help to mitigate the financial impact of the pandemic.

How? The Association of Private Airport Operators (APAO) in a letter dated March 11 wrote to the Civil Aviation Secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola requesting to levy a nominal passenger facilitation charges as part of airline fares to cover increased operating expenses on preventive measures.

The APAO has urged the ministry of civil aviation to provide package for the higher expenses incurred to prevent the spread of disease which includes screening of passengers and disinfection.

There is a need of provisioning of an airport operator alleviation package by Airport Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA) to facilitate the growing operational expenses, released in the next control period of applicable airport operators.

The Association communication comes when India has recorded 80 cases of coronavirus infection with one death in Karnataka.

''Ensuring compliance with government advisories on screening of passengers has required airports to significantly beef up its manpower deployment at airports and make expenditure on various items like masks, sanitizers and floor cleaners.

Given our focus on passenger convenience especially at such a juncture, significant time and effort is being spent by senior management at all these airports,'' the Association said.

However, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has strongly opposed the Association's demand to levy nominal passenger facilitation charges as part of airline fares.

IATA Country Director Amitabh Khosla said ''India's private airports need to do a reality check on their suggestion to impose a new levy at a time when passenger demand is plummeting on account of the COVID-19 outbreak.

What is needed now are relief measures to help the aviation industry, and eventually when the situation is resolved to look at ways to grow demand, instead of a self-serving interest in protecting profits without recognizing what is happening in the world around us. It is imperative that we focus on reducing the overall cost of travel and work collectively to identify mutual cost saving opportunities.''

Further, APAO said, in order to address the growing severity of the coronavirus outbreak and ensure sustainability of operations for airport operators, there should be close cooperation mechanism between airport operators and policy stakeholders to identify various options to tackle the crisis.

Most of the airport operators, who do not want to be identified, hinted that the foreign footfalls and sales at duty free shops, food malls and retail outlets have dropped drastically.

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