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Millennium Post

A limping maharaja

Air india’s woes have not ended, with the pilot’s strike bleeding it. The Indian Pilots’ Guild (IPG) continues with the strike, though the civil aviation minister, Ajit Singh, has assured the pilot’s that their demands will be looked into provided they ended their ‘illegal’ agitation unconditionally. However, with the IPG demanding the reinstatement of the 101 sacked aviators and asking the government to re-recognise the union to enable it to represent the pilots during deliberations on the Dharmadhikari Committee report – which relates to the integration of the erstwhile Air India and Indian Airlines employees and their pay, allowances and career progression structures, before it calls off the strike  there is no end in sight. The stalemate between the striking pilots and the government continues, and the strike, in the peak travel season, has further pushed up the airline’s revenue losses to more than Rs 350 crore. The pilots’ strike is one of Air India’s troubles that has arisen out of the messy amalgamation of Indian Airlines and Air India. With the human resources aspects not having been clearly thought through at the time of the merger, this has led to disputes with the staff that continue to handicap Air India’s functioning. However, staffing problems are just one aspect of the airline’s multitudinous ills. It is in deep trouble, with financial difficulties having most severely plagued it, and necessitating a government bailout.

One of the reasons cited by a CAG report for the financial mess is the Air India fleet expansion plan with the purchase of 111 plans at a massive cost of Rs 67,000 crore. The question of the financial and commercial viability of these purchases had also been put before the Delhi high court, which has, in recent days, refused to pass any order on a plea for a CVC probe into it, saying that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of Parliament was looking into it. The issue of wrong-doing in decision-making at Air India is, thus, very much before the public eye. The PAC is seized, at this very moment, of this CAG report which also states that the merger of Indian Airlines with Air India is a cause of Air India’s present ills. Whatever the findings of the PAC, there is no doubt whatsoever that Air India has been mis-handled, and that too, very badly, in the last few years. Nothing else accounts for the dismal performance of the airline, when, at the time of the merger, both Air India and Indian Airlines were profit-making entities. It is difficult to understand fully decisions made, such as the one to give up profit-making routes to private airlines. The workings of Air India in the last few years must be examined carefully to find out who is responsible for its current sorry state and heads must roll.
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