With the Ministry of Civil Aviation turning down Air India’s (AI) proposal to start operations to Melbourne — the second time that it has put its foot down in less than two months — the differences between the government and the state-owned carrier are out in the open.
The public snub hasn’t gone down well with the national airline, coming as it does close on the heels of having to scrap a $1.6 million image makeover deal with an Australian firm. Cato Purnell Partners had been signed up to revitalise Air India’s brand identity ahead of the Commonwealth Games, but the deal was cancelled after the ministry raised objections.
Aviations experts say the differences between the ministry and AI have been simmering for some time now.
Air India CMD Arvind Jadhav had flown to Australia in June to sign an agreement with Victoria State Premier John Brumby, and AI had proudly announced the launch of daily flights from Delhi from November 1.
"The CMD goes to Australia and an announcement is made but AI is unable to implement its decisions. It can’t be more unfortunate," said Kapil Kaul, CEO, Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.
Senior Ministry officials say they have every right to dictate terms as the airline is surviving on a lifeline provided by the government.
"A three-member committee comprising Amit Mitra, secretary general, FICCI and two Ministry officials was constituted to look into the details of the Melbourne flight after which a letter was sent to AI refusing permission," an official said.
Now AI has asked the ministry to reconsider its decision, citing the profitability of the route.
"Operational decisions should be left to the management. If they start deciding on routes, how are we going to work?" asked an airline official who did not wish to be named.
"AI’s board and not the Ministry should take day-to-day decisions, as they are the ones who are responsible for the airline," said Kaul. "The Ministry should have a consulting role."