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Air India's revival has not taken off

National carrier Air India can survive and grow only if it is run like an airline, not like a fiefdom.

comment Updated: Mar 14, 2014 00:33 IST

Air India’s need for surgery is obvious to its owner, the government, its management, and, to an extent, its employees. The recent sacking of 16 air hostesses and a flight purser for not following flight duty time limitation (FDTL) norms seems like another move in a game that will play out over the next couple of years as the bleeding flag carrier tries to make itself fit to fly again.

FDTL norms are guidelines governing aspects such as the maximum daily flight duty period including flying hour limitations, rest period, staff-on-duty travel and number of landings allowed per pilot as well as the crew. Any violations should call for action, which the Air India management has handed out.

Two years ago, the government announced a Rs 30,000 crore cash-booster, infused over an eight-year period. This is not the first revival plan the airline has come up with and the metrics for future cash infusions should be iron-clad, and, therefore, before the government started signing over shiploads of rupees it rightly asked for some guarantees.

The condition: The national carrier has to turn profitable by 2018. With more than 30,000 employees and accumulated losses totalling more than Rs 30,000 crore, there is no disputing the fact that the Maharaja needs to do some serious soul-searching. Air India can survive if it is run like an airline, not as a fiefdom. Air India’s employees and its myriad unions must be held to whatever terms they eventually settle on.

Nimble private airlines have eroded the former monopoly’s market share, which now stands at about 19%, down from 50% in 2003 and the airline can ignore this only at its own peril.

The problems with employees are only one among a string of other issues that the carrier is struggling to sort out. The world over, an aircraft makes money in the air and loses it when on the tarmac. The unending glitches plaguing the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, the aircraft that the ailing national carrier is betting big on to turn around its fortunes, is giving sleepless nights to the flag carrier. It is in everybody’s interest that a clear revival takes place, even if it is at the cost of some painful transition.