For many years Air India used to be source of national pride for Indians due to the fact that the airline was regarded as one of the finest in the world and was spoken of in the same glowing terms as airlines like Pan Am or British Airways. However, ever since the airline was nationalised it went into a spiral of decline which culminated to the infamous strikes last year when Air India was unable to pay salaries to their staff. Gross mismanagement, losses making flight routes and suspicions of corruption have plagued Air India for quite a while, much like anything that is managed by the Government. However, the question is, whether a developing country like India has the luxury of footing the bill for the losses of an airline or not and that too, to the tune of a jaw dropping $5.2 billion.
Air India – The Early Damages
Now, there used to be a time when Air India used to be the pre-eminent airline in India and the preferred choice among Indians for international as well as domestic travel but the opening up of the economy in 1991 heralded an era of private enterprise and investment which saw the emergence of new carriers which silently started eating into the hegemony enjoyed by Air India. In this regard, it must be said that the powers that be in the Government were equally to blame for the steady decline of Air India, when it did not finance the replacement of jaded airplanes owned by the carrier. Air India was not allowed to replace their old planes for close to a decade while the other airlines gained a competitive advantage by operating in the routes in which they could not operate. Although it might be dismissed as just a dent in the overall scheme of things, it goes to show the complete ineptitude of the people in charge to make the airline a profitable one.
Recently Air India introduced flights to Birmingham from Delhi via Amritsar on 4 days a week, which is surely a revenue generating route but on the other hand the airline operates such inexplicable routes like the one from Srinagar to Dubai, which according to the BBC has an occupancy of 20-30 at most, although the capacity of the flight is 180. On the other hand the efficiency of the majority of the staff at Air India is also not beyond reproach if you compare them with their counterparts on a global scale. According to detailed studies, the weekly working hours of Air India employees is pegged at a modest 55 hours while the employees of most of the leading airlines in the world work for no less than 70-75 hours in a week. In addition to that, most Air India flights are staffed with 210 salaried personnel as compared to other international, profit making carriers who carry around a staff of 100 or so per flight. So, as one can see Air India is not really the epitome of efficiency and refuses to learn the lessons of the years past when it remained a loss making organisation.
Air India – A Possible Solution
The only feasible solution to the corundum is to offer the airline to private players, who would be able to run the airline as a business and not a plaything of the government, who can keep Air India floating with the tax payers’ money. It might be argued that the private airlines are not doing any better when you consider the plight of Kingfisher Airlines but at least the losses are not bleeding the exchequer like it is in case of Air India. However, it is unlikely that an airline that is used by the representatives of Government for their travel would be privatised anytime soon but if it continues in the same vein, the day would not be far away when the elephant in the sky would be finally offered to corporations who would be willing to at least try their hand at turning it into a business and not a hobby.