Air India seems to have become efficient all of a sudden. At least, that’s what its provisional numbers for 2016-17, provided by minister of state for civil aviation Jayant Sinha to the Rajya Sabha, show.

The airline’s net loss for FY17 declined by Rs194 crore compared to FY16, to Rs3,643 crore. Interestingly, this comes at a time when the three listed airlines in the country—InterGlobe Aviation Ltd (that runs IndiGo), Jet Airways (India) Ltd and SpiceJet Ltd—have all reported a decline in their net profits for FY17. The adjacent chart has the details.

Air India’s operating profit more than doubled year-on-year to Rs300 crore, according to the aviation ministry. In comparison, Jet Airways’ operating profit was down 50%. It makes more sense to compare Jet Airways and Air India given the similar revenue size and higher share of international revenue in their portfolio. For perspective, IndiGo’s operating profit fell 31% in FY17, whereas SpiceJet’s rose by a mere 1%. The last fiscal year was a challenging one for the industry given that fuel costs had increased as a percentage of revenue for the listed airlines and demonetization had also hit them adversely.

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The marginal improvement in Air India’s performance, of course, is not enough. Sure, the net loss has fallen year-on-year, but net loss as a percentage of revenue at 16.4% for FY17 is hardly cause for rejoicing. The measure stood at 18.7% in FY16. The improvement of Rs194 crore (or 0.87% of its revenue) in the net loss is paltry to begin with. Moreover, it’s difficult to tell where the improvement is coming from, given that the detailed break-up of revenue and costs is not given. Air India’s revenue, according to the submission to the Rajya Sabha, includes exceptional and extraordinary items.

What is clear is that unless the government does something about the mammoth debt sitting on Air India’s balance sheet (Rs52,000 crore as per reports), respite is not in sight. The minister’s reply in the Rajya Sabha mentions that debt servicing costs are around Rs6,000 crore per annum.

It is unlikely that Air India will be sold as a single entity. Earlier this month, IndiGo said it is not looking to acquire all of Air India’s businesses and subsidiaries. “In our view, that would be a herculean task which would at best be a very challenging proposition and at worst an impossible task, unless an organization is willing to fund large losses for a very long time," IndiGo pointed out in a conference call on 6 July.