Back when Bobby Kooka created the Maharajah mascot for Air India, he laid down three rules: the Maharajah would always appear— in billboards, ads and wherever else?he was used—with his head covered (in some kind of headgear), eyes closed and feet off the ground (he was an airline’s mascot, after all). Through the years, the mandarins at Air India and its ad agency have followed the rules assidiously, but they have let other matters slip. So much so that the airline now runs the risk of being grounded (a delightfully ironic counter to a mascot whose feet never touch the ground). Still, it can always be argued that these managers were simply keeping their eyes closed too.
In many ways, woes at India’s national carrier present a case study on how an airline (and a company) should not be run. If there is a moral hidden in the airline’s sorry saga, it is simply this: The government has no business running an airline, although it must be said that there are several private sector firms, in India and elsewhere, that have been run as badly as this airline was.
Many of the airline’s current woes can be attributed to a 2007 decision to merge India’s state-owned national and international carriers, and the way this merger has been implemented (or not implemented). Sure, either or both airlines could have still gone belly up without the merger, but the union simply seems to have accelerated the process. The problems at the two airlines and, now, at the merged entity are airline chestnuts: over-staffing, inefficiency, poor service, financial mismanagement, and the complete absence of anything that can even be mistaken for strategy. Equally straightforward is the possible solution, however complex that may be rendered by the presence of several active and militant unions.
Addressing these problems doesn’t require a merger with another airline, although it is likely that the government went ahead with the union of Air India and Indian Airlines because it is always easier to pass off unpalatable changes as those necessitated by the integration. If so, it has shown a remarkable lack of will in enforcing its own decision. And now, the government seems to be coming around to the belief that throwing good money after bad will solve the airline’s problems. It won’t. Nor will appointing a new CEO every few months.
Did the government mar Air India’s prospects? Tell us at firstname.lastname@example.org