Air India is an organization that has developed an uncanny ability to get almost nothing right. So much so that diagnosing what is exactly wrong with the airline has become something of a national pastime.
Some people—mostly a laundry list of consultants— have turned it into a rich source of revenue. Others— analysts and observers—pull their hair out trying to make sense of big, bad numbers.
From a purely financial perspective there is little rationale in keeping the maharaja flying. A turnaround has been just around the corner for years. But each time believers in the airline have been left clutching at straws. A recent report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India cited allowances to foreign airlines and bad aircraft purchases as the primary reason for the national carrier’s decline. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The sad fact is that the national carrier of one of the world’s fast growing economies, with a huge head start and unparalleled local experience, somehow managed to rake in billions of dollars in losses.
However, there is one presumption here: that restructuring Air India is merely a question of stemming losses, convincing unions and getting back to business as usual. An incident earlier this week reveals much more basic problems. On Saturday an Air India flight from Kozhikode to Dubai was delayed after the co-pilot refused to fly with his allotted captain. Following a directive from the Indian Commercial Pilots Association (ICPA), Adarsh Kumar left 169 passengers stranded while the airline scrambled to find a replacement to fly with captain Sandeep Marwah. The captain had fallen out of ICPA’s favour as he had been close to ex-managing director Arvind Jadhav.
Later the ICPA sent a letter to the airline, with amusing lack of irony, stating that staffing captain Marwah was the kind of “decision-making that has allowed this company to become the laughing stock of the world”.
While staff, unions,politicians and bureaucrats sort out their differences, the people who actually pay for the airline—taxpayers and customers—can only bear mute, helpless witness.
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