Mumbai/New Delhi: Vayalar Ravi, given additional charge of the civil aviation ministry on Wednesday, says Air India is his first priority and he will not hesitate to walk the extra mile, if required, to get government support for the ailing national carrier.
In an interview a day after he was handed the portfolio, Ravi said he wants to fast-track Air India’s turnaround programme and a review will be done in a couple of weeks. Edited excerpts:
What will be your top priorities in the civil aviation sector?
I will have to initiate series of discussions with government officials and airline executives to lay down the action plan. However, my first priority will be Air India. I want Air India to bring (back) its lost glory. I would want Air India’s customers should feel happy about its service.
New role: Vayalar Ravi at Rajiv Bhavan after taking charge as civil aviation minister on Thursday. Hindustan Times
There were charges that the government was micro-managing Air India and that led to the financial mess at the airline. What will be your strategy?
I never heard that the government is micro-managing Air India. In fact, I had heard that the government is not intervening at critical times. However, I would not want to micro-manage Air India. Air India is an organization and it has a board of directors and management to undertake routine operations. Certainly, I will be monitoring the developments and not remain just an onlooker.
What are the first few steps on your mind for the carrier??
I will review it in a couple of weeks. It needs cooperation of all the employees and the management.
What is the action plan for the financial turnaround of Air India? Will you help Air India get more fund infusion from the government?
I want to bring up Air India from the current red line and make it a viable institution. I cannot answer for the time being whether I will be able to get more funds for Air India. Fund infusion is a process where the cabinet and its approval is required. All I want to say is that I want to fast-track the turnaround process of Air India. And I would not mind approaching the Prime Minister or finance minister if, in between, Air India needs any help in terms of additional fund infusion from the government.
Is a demerger of the carrier an option?
It’s a wide subject. I have an open mind on it.
Would you be considering a change in Air India’s top management?
I haven’t thought of it. I haven’t come here with a pre-notion.
You are seen to be more close to the Air India unions (Ravi began his political career as a student union leader in Kerala).
I will consult with all the unions and take their views. I don’t know what has happened in the past. But it’s my way of working.
Indian carriers allege that foreign airlines are dumping their capacity and eating into the market share of Indian carriers. There were allegations that India opened up its skies without considering the capabilities of its domestic carriers.
I have to study the issue before commenting on it. But bilateral agreements are mutual. If a foreign airline is permitted to fly X number of flights in India, domestic carriers have rights to operate an equal number of flights in that country.
Sales tax on jet fuel has been haunting domestic airlines for years. Are you hopeful of a resolution to this critical issue, which is having an adverse impact on the cost of operations of domestic airlines?
Taxation affects all. Let me look into the matter.
India is in the midst of formulating new regulation for major airports. But the criticism is that airport costs are shooting up and passengers are asked to bear levies such as user development funds and airport development funds.
You cannot oppose new airports coming in. More airports should come up in India. But you cannot expect private airports will come for free. There is proper regulation in place to administer the levies charged by airports. There is a clear cut agreement for airports for charging or not charging a levy.
India has not seen the entry of new scheduled airlines or successful regional airlines as the government has been strict on financial viability. What will be your stand—financial viability or competition?
Nobody is stopping a new airline to come. There is a proper regulatory system in place for a new airline to take wing.
Recently, the government stepped in when airlines increased airfares. Are you in favour of the government interfering in or controlling fares?
There is a regulatory mechanism in place to monitor airlines. But I am against the practice of raising airfares indiscriminately by airlines for only fetching profit. I was among the first who raised an alarm when airlines were indiscriminately increasing fares in December.