Flag carrier Air India was on Saturday asked by Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel to either perform or perish due to competition from a new crop of international airlines that excel in service.
"It is a tough statement I make... Either they perform or they perish because ultimately it is a consumer interface," he said in an interview to NDTV on the eve of the 60th anniversary of Air India's first international flight.
The 76-year-old airline has a poor brand image among travellers and was in fact named the Indian company with the worst corporate reputation by US-based Reputation Institute this year.
Observing that the airline was accountable to its customers to avoid the risk of being over-run by competition, he said it was customer satisfaction which would drive the airline and not a ministerial diktat from Delhi.
Last year, the government merged state-run Indian airlines, which operated on domestic and short-haul international routes, with Air India to enable the carrier take on competition from other private international carriers.
But with private Indian airlines allowed to fly to the Gulf, a route that was previously reserved for the national carrier, Air India faces turbulent skies crowded by better-equipped competitors.