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Has the Maharaja lost his crown?

Air India (AI) is struggling to find a balance between an overarching public sector culture and the difficult demands of an aggressive, competitive industry. Airline report card

india Updated: Nov 10, 2011 02:38 IST
Tushar Srivastava

Once a symbol of pride and now dismissed as a white elephant torn between empire-building babus and demanding trade unions, Air India (AI) is struggling to find a balance between an overarching public sector culture and the difficult demands of an aggressive, competitive industry in which both no-frills players and full service charmers are cornering India’s national carrier in a pincer attack.

Rohit Nandan, AI’s new chairman and managing director, can take heart from the fact that despite being the lowest scorer in the HT-MaRS airline survey for the second time, the cabinet seems poised once again to drop a financial lifeline to the airline which is hemorrhaging even as it had lined up the purchase of a 111-strong new fleet.

“You need someone with the passion of JRD Tata to return the airline to its past glory. Unfortunately, we have nobody with that kind of passion in India,” said Captain Mohan Ranganathan, an aviation expert.

From a combined profit of over Rs 75 crore in 2005-06 to losses of Rs 7,000 crore that AI is estimated to incur in fiscal 2011, the story has been one of constant decline.

The airline scored a measly 766 index points as compared to others, finding favour only in Kolkata and Indore in the city-wise ranking.

Poor management, controversial hires, political interference have all contributed to bringing AI to its present state. The airline has an unusually high employee-aircraft ratio of 243:1 (industry average is around 150:1), yet the service leaves much to be desired.

EK Bharath Bhushan, director general, civil aviation, expressed no surprise at AI’s low scores. “They need to improve on-time performance, cleanliness; basically every single parameter,” he said.

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