Flight change: another stab in Maharaja’s back

Fuel crisis? But why cut down on prime flights right during peak season?


Sweta Ranjan | May 31, 2011

The Maharaja is gasping for breath. The latest in a series of management decisions that threaten Air India’s survival is the May 28 move to combine, curtail and temporarily reschedule 29 national and international flights – during the peak season. [See the curtailed schedule in the PDF link below]

The Murder of Maharaja: Read more in the current issue of Governance Now

It is surprising that during the summer vacation, when other airlines increase the number of flights to meet the rising demand, the national carrier has decided to play second fiddle to other airlines by withdrawing its flights till the start of the lean season.

The move comes at a time when public-sector oil companies have given Ailing Air India a temporary reprieve after threatening to stop the supply of jet fuel.

During the lean season from June 15 till September, the number of flights will in any case be curtailed due to low traffic and, therefore, there would be less fuel uplift.

The AI management says that the decision was taken after the oil PSUs and the Delhi and Hyderabad airport operators asked it to clear the dues. But the story is more complex when you look at the details of the flights which have been called off temporarily or combined with other flights.
Among the prime-time flights AI has decided to withdraw and combine AI 688/601, DEL-BOM-DEL (Delhi-Mumbai-Delhi) operating at 6 a.m. The other flight operating in the same sector is AI 805/605 flying at 7 p.m. The morning flight operating between Mumbai and Bangalore at 6.15 a.m. has also been temporarily axed. Withdrawal of these peak-hour flights are sure to benefit other airlines as these flights were favorite among those who opt to fly in the morning and return by the evening flight.
Withdrawal of the only flight connecting Varanasi and Kathmandu is also questionable. AI 251-252 flying to Kathmandu from Varanasi mainly had foreigners on board. But the withdrawal of this thrice-a-week flight (except on June 11 and 12) will only hurt the maharaja’s coffers further.
Among international flights, the frequency of DELHI-TOKYO-DELHI and DELHI-LONDON HITHRO-DELHI has been cut down from four times in a week to two and from 14 times in a week to seven, respectively.

A pilot requesting anonymity says, “We agree these flights never had full load but these were the flagship flights AI boasted of. AI had marketed these flights extensively. AI should be ashamed of curtailing these flights.”
The management has also decided to replace B777- 200LR aircraft with A 321 on DELHI-AMRITSAR-DELHI route (flight no AI 187/188). This is a welcome move, but as an AI official puts it, “Why did they ply B777 on such a small route? This route never had more than 70 passengers.”
A member of the Indian Commercial Pilots Association says the rescheduling and withdrawal of the flight, apparently due to the fuel crisis, is another attempt to kill the maharaja, though an AI official maintains it is an effort to save the sinking ship.
The official, on condition of anonymity, says, “It’s better to rationalise flights by curtailing or combining them than to withdraw them fully. It’s very difficult for cash-starved AI to maintain the same schedule. After the fuel crisis the management has decided to cut down on the number of flights but we have done it in a very rationalized manner so that it does not cause inconvenience to any passenger.”



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