Maharajah's loss, private carriers' gain

Air India set to lose staff


Sweta Ranjan | June 28, 2011

The Maharajah who could once become a lover boy in Paris, a sumo wrestler in Tokyo, a pavement artist, a Red Indian, a monk... who could effortlessly flirt with the beauties of the world (as quoted on the Air India website) is now gasping for breath.

The late J R D Tata, the man behind the national carrier, could have never imagined that a day would come when the employees of his pet project would leave because of non-payment of salary.

Around 10 senior commanders have already put in their papers and many more are making up their minds to switch to other airlines. Sources say that if the appalling state of finances is not improved soon, the national carrier is likely to see a mass exodus before long.

Some steps need to be taken urgently to revive the ailing Maharajah.

First and foremost, the pilots have been pleading for regularisation of their salary for the past one year and this needs to be done at the earliest. The recent 10-day strike was just the last resort for the pilots who found themselves ranged against an adamant management.

Second, the Air India employees are unhappy because they see no career progression. The airline has put the command training of the pilots on hold. The pilots who are efficient and eligible to be promoted to commander can’t undergo command training due to the lack of funds. So if a pilot who is eligible to fly as a commander shall continue to fly as a co-pilot. Nothing can be more demotivating for the pilots.

Air India needs to act fast because many international and domestic private airlines are on the expansion mode. Air India's loss can easily become the private carriers' gain. “The opportunities are available right now but who knows if the same opportunity will be there after six months. It’s better to switch over as soon as possible,” says a pilot.

“The Maharajah began merely as a rich Indian potentate, symbolizing graciousness and high living. And somewhere along the line his creators gave him a distinctive personality: his outsized moustache, the striped turban and his aquiline nose. His antics, his expressions, his puns have allowed Air India to promote its services with a unique panache and an unmatched sense of subtle humour. In fact he has won numerous national and international awards for Air India for humour and originality in publicity,” reads the Air India website.

For an airline that has not been able to pay its pilots for the past three months, these words sound more tragic than comic.

The Maharaja is burdened with a monthly deficit of nearly Rs 550 crore. That means, the AI is facing an annual deficit of Rs 6,600 crore. It pays Rs 16.5 crore every day for fuel and though the oil marketing companies have been directed to supply fuel requirement for the next three months the future remains uncertain. The airline has to repay principal and interest to international financial institutions, which provided funds for acquisition of aircraft. Around Rs 9 crore is the daily interest outgo.

Will the airline manage to fly out of its massive losses within three months?

The numbers certainly don't inspire much optimism.



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