Will Air India be able to return to its golden age after coming to Tata Sons?
In February 1978, the then Prime Minister Morarji Desai called retired Air Chief Marshal PC Lal, who was living in Kolkata at that time, asking him to take over as the head of Indian Airlines from JRD Tata. PC Lal had told in a conversation with me that he opposed JRD’s removal behind his back, but Morarji Desai’s insistence did not lead to his removal and he had to go to Mumbai to meet JRD Tata. Then there was a conversation like this between retired Air Chief Marshal PC Lal and JRD Tata. Lal asked, “Sir, I am in a strange dilemma. I have a government order to take over the airlines. what do you want? I want your permission.”
Anyone who has met JRD would know that he did not lose his chivalry and dignity even in the most difficult of circumstances. JRD just shrugged his shoulder and said, “Air Marshal you don’t need my permission. You have no other option but to execute the order of the Prime Minister. Yes, it would have been nice if I had been informed about this in advance. Congratulations to you from my side.” The next morning the airline’s managing director KG Appusamy and his deputy Nari Dastur resigned in protest against Lal’s appointment as the chief. After this it was JRD Tata who ordered both of them to return to work.
Air India again near ‘Tata’ after 43 years
Today, after 43 years (and 68 years after the inception of Air India), the two names are once again linked together. But the road ahead is not easy. In the last forty three years no stone was left unturned to destroy Air India. At present, the Maharaja has a debt of Rs 40,000 crore. The government’s plan is that it will bear Rs 17,000 crore out of this itself and the remaining 23,000 crore debt will have to be borne by the new owner i.e. Tata.
It is expected that Air India will regain its old credentials by returning to Tata’s hands. By 1978, when it was in the hands of Maharaja Tata, it was one of the best airlines in the world. Seeing the condition of Air India today, one cannot even imagine its golden age.
Many challenges before Air India
The corona pandemic has not ruined the air service market alone. Except Indigo, all other airlines are running in loss. Therefore, to revive Air India again, step by step will have to be taken. It will have to choose profitable air routes, curb staff and maintenance costs, and get out of the clutches of politicians and bureaucrats who have used Air India as their personal property and fiefdom.
Writing in the Indian Aerospace and Defense magazine, Jitendra Bhargava, former Director of Public Relations, Air India, writes about the Maharaja, “Air India saw a steep decline in value after the first process of disinvestment nearly two decades ago. As time passed, its property and value went down. Today Air India is marginalized in the airspace. Its presence in the domestic market has come down to only 12 to 13 per cent. The Maharaja’s share in international flights too has been reduced to just 17 per cent. As other private airlines expand their air fleet in the coming times, Air India’s share in the Indian aviation market may decrease further. Because Air India could not expand due to lack of capital. A government-owned company has its own limits. Due to internal flaws, she is not able to survive in the competitive environment.
Will Air India be able to return to its golden age?
A former managing director of Air India had said that even the CEO is able to contribute only half of his time in the management of the airlines, because half of his time is spent in meetings with ministers, parliamentary committees and officers or in answering the questions of those MPs. Doomed to those who consider themselves to be the owners of the airline.”
The news of the arrival of low-budget carrier Akash and the resumption of Jet in the near future has raised a ray of hope. A record 2,300 landings and takeoffs are being recorded in India these days. In such a situation, it is necessary to think that what Air India can do to establish itself in the midst of all this. In the last 10 years, 7 Indian airlines including Kingfisher, Jet and Costa were shut down. Even today low-budget airlines like SpiceJet and GoAir and full-budget airlines like Vistara are struggling to survive in a big way.
The huge stock of international routes can prove to be a trump card for Air India. Air India has 6,200 slots across the world including the domestic circuit. Air India Express itself has 555 air routes, which can be very important in bringing it back to the old colors. The less time an airline gets at an airport, the more important its slot becomes. Hopefully Air India will be transformed inside Tata.
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