Air India is not cost conscious, cays Ajit Singh
By Mamta Todi Khaitan | ENS - NEW DELHI
23rd June 2012 10:22 AM
Civil Aviation Minister, Ajit Singh took charge of the Civil Aviation Ministry at a time when everything that could go wrong in the sector. He is clearly displeased with the functioning of the national carrier, Air India pilots struck work and still continue to do so, he terminated 101 pilots thinking it would break the strike, it did not happen, airlines were charged with cartelisation and high air fares, Singh intervened, airlines brought down fares but not enough for the ‘aam admi’, he tried placating West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee to allow Foreign Direct Investment in domestic carriers, did not achieve much, Singh has his hands full while the sector is facing severe headwinds, TNIE Aviation Correspondent Mamta Todi Khaitan, met and asked Singh about the sector and where it was headed, excerpts:
AI’s is not in the best of financial health despite its AI’s hotel expenses run into hundreds of crore? This is not inclusive of the taxi/transportation charges. How can the airline be splurging when there is no money?
Air India is not cost conscious. It does not even have the money to pay its employees or vendors. Despite, the airline has paid no attention to improving its performance. My mandate for them is to cut costs at all levels. The government bailout of `30,000 crore comes with these riders, and milestones that they need to achieve. The Dharmadikari report will also help us in doing that. The other action we are taking to improve revenues is to establish a new and independent call-center as the existing contract with Interglobe to run the call center is coming to an end in a couple of months. We had wondered how can a rival airline be running the essential customer-service product of Air India. But now it does not matter as their contract is ending.
Once the CCEA clears the compensation package of Boeing for delayed delivery, we will have three 787 Dreamliners within 20 days.
Air fares in India have hit the ceiling, while the attempt was to make air transport with in the reach of the common man, why have the fares gone so high ?
I did come across cases of predatory pricing wherein the civil aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation found some misuse of the price bands the airlines have submitted. However, it is not correct to say we have high fares. I am collecting a comparative scale of pricing in other developed and developing countries. Trends largely show how fares there are 73-80% higher. Similarly even for airports the charges are not high. The airport development fee and the user development fee charged in some places is only for a certain time period. With our plan to subsidise fuel, operators should not find it difficult to operate in these places.
The pilots strike more than 46 days old, you have terminated 101 pilots, you said more head would roll if the pilots do not report to duty, have you chosen to back track? What happens to the airline?
They are also pilots and I have already said that we will not be vindictive. But when they put conditions to come back, it is not acceptable. They should show some loyalty to the airline. We have also said that the re-recognition of their union will be considered as per the rules. Their termination is sub-judice in the court and we cannot go forward.
The bottom line of the issue is a merger th at didn’t work out. However, just when Air India had started showing good performance in last three months before the strike, these pilots went on ‘strike’ without any notice. The unions also have some rules of operating. They have come to me, the CMD (Rohit Nandan) and the Secretary (Dr Nasim Zaidi) for discussions but have gone back without any commitment to join work.
Even the Air India management has realised that they are not interested in coming back. Being off from work for more than 30 days has put them out of functional work for at least 3-4 months even if they want to come back now.
Executive pilots who are running the show have complained of stress and fatigue. How long can this go on? Two senior commanders have resigned and alleged every Air India flight is a ‘disaster in the making’ as AI is forcing fatigued pilots to fly.
I have not received any signed representation from the executive pilots. But I checked yesterday and only 15 of the 110 pilots had not reported to duty. In May as many as 73 pilots were flying for an average of 67 hours. As per DGCA they can fly upto 100 hours and in the airline pact they can fly upto 80 hours. So they are not stressed. In fact, even the Mumbai meeting I had with pilots they did not bring up this issue. They just wanted the issue of strike resolved.
Have the Chennai airport privatization plans been shelved?
No. Discussions are on with the Planning Commission. We have not approached the State government yet but privatisation is a good solution.
Are the plans of FDI by foreign airlines bleak?
We are still trying to pursue our allies.
Your stint as a minister…
I hope even a farmer with a sack of potatoes on his head flies one day.
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