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Air India owes the public much more than Mallya does

  • Mrinalini Singh
  • June 22, 2017
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To call Air India the national carrier, and so justify running it at losses that would make Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher blush, is a tragi-comedy that must end. Air India comes third at 14%, about to be overtaken by Spicejet at 13-14%. Indigo is the top domestic carrier with a market share of around 40%, followed by Jet at 18%. If Air India staff strike to protest attempted privatisation, the public will not suffer at all—other airlines will easily pick up the feeble.

This shows that how irrelevant Air India has become for travellers, even as it becomes an ever-thirstier bloodsucker of public funds and bank borrowings diverted from public health, housing and poverty reduction.

Air India has never been run professionally and never will. It is a horrendously costly political plaything. “Air India is nothing but a cronies-filling-jobs programme— it is so bloated that successive govts simply do not know what to do except throw good money after bad,” says Saj Ahmed, chief analyst at Strategic Aero Research. It is hugely overmanned, yet keeps re-hiring retirees.

A columnist AK Bhattacharya wrote in 2015, “Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh undertook 73 foreign visits between 2004 and 2014, entailing a travel time of 246 days. But the problem is that for as many as five of his last visits (17 days), the bills for chartering the Air India aircraft are still under process and the chartering costs for the remaining 68 foreign visits came to around Rs 700 crore. And for Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has till now used the mentioned airline service for 55 days during his 13 foreign visits, no bills for as many as eight visits have been received by the government, bills for four visits are under process & the bill for only one visit has been generated. Will any of the other airline will agree to offer such easy terms for settling bills for chartering its aircraft?

The UPA government decided in 2012 to pump into a whopping Rs 30,000 crore to revive a sick giant that never recovers despite swallowing very large doses of cash. At a time when airlines across the world are minting money because of low fuel prices, Air India lost Rs 3,587 crore in 2015-16 even while Indigo made Rs 1.987 crore.

Kingfisher tycoon Vijay Mallya has been criticized for his airlines debts of Rs 9,000 crore. But Air India’s debts & losses over the years have been far higher.  If it is a scam for banks to lend so much to a bust private company, how is it less scammy to fund Air India on an even larger scale?

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