Air India (AI) may be spending a lot of money on a splashy advertisement campaign on television channels to woo customers but the picture on the ground tells a very different story.
On Monday, the airline was forced to cancel its Chennai-Singapore flight as a captain of another flight reported sick and the carrier diverted one pilot to run the other’s full flight. “Sick reporting during weekends has become a regular affair,” moaned a senior AI official. And this is serious when Chennai will soon be the base for AirAsia India, due to start operations.
Aviation minister Ajit Singh’s recent comments that privatising AI could be one of the last options left to save the bleeding national carrier has got strong backing from experts. While the minister’s comments raised a political storm many believe it is the politician-bureaucrat nexus that is making taxpayers repeatedly support a bleeding airline that once was India’s pride.
With losses of more than `7,500 crore in 2011-12 and accumulated losses exceeding `30,000 crore, the airline has outlived a 2010 report by Booz & Co said it was headed for a “point of no return.”
“The concept of national carrier is irrelevant and outdated. To keep running the airline at the cost of taxpayer’s money is ridiculous. Privatisation looks inevitable,” said an aviation ministry official.
Experts say Air India should follow the footsteps of now-privatised state airlines such as British Airways, Air France-KLM, Alitalia and Lufthansa.
“With the carrier expected to post continued losses, we expected that the next government that takes office in 2014 will finally bite the bullet and commence the privatisation of AI, ” said a recent report by aviation consultancy firm Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.