Some six decades ago in August 1953,
the Indian air transport industry was nationalised to provide
safe, smooth and economic air travel to the people. It involved
eight warring airlines with different work cultures, horrendous
safety record, disastrous financial conditions because of
cut-throat competition and inefficient management in some.
Thus come into existence Indian Airlines Corp and Air India Ltd to
operate domestic and international long haul services. The
nationalisation was also expected to spur growth, promote economic
activity, rush assistance in times of natural calamities like
flood, famine and earthquake, foster national integration and,
above all, serve as the second line of defence in the event of war
with another country.
It must be conceded that the nationalised airlines fulfilled most
of the expectations of the nation, particularly at times of
natural calamities and during the wars with China and Pakistan.
This apart, bringing remote places of the country into the
mainstream by connecting them with air service need not be told.
Now six decades down the line the government, it appears, has
decided to do an about-turn and gift the fully-developed industry
with huge infrastructure, assets worth thousands of crores of
rupees along with a worldwide network and trained manpower back to
The crisis in the national carrier Air India is a carefully
crafted design to make a mess in the airline, malign it and hand
it over to the private hands on a platter. The immediate cause of
the trouble can be traced to the senseless merger of the two wings
of the airline -- the erstwhile Indian Airlines and Air India.
It is not that the country does not have the experience of airline
merger business. The Indian Airlines Corp had its initial teething
problems, but then the merger plan was so meticulously worked out
that all issues of integration got sorted out in a couple of years
and the new-born airline took to wings smoothly.
Of course, behind this success was the government's firm hand and
The present amalgamation of the two wings of the national airline
was done hastily and defied the recommendations of several
committees. Earlier, since the managements opposed outright
merger, these committees suggested the creation of a holding
company to oversee the functioning of the two airlines and bring
Opposed to that, the present exercise was an outright merger, that
too without working out any solution for the possible problems to
be encountered. Otherwise how come not an inch has moved forward
during last over four years on the vital issue of integrating
human resources and flight operations?
Pilots of erstwhile Indian Airlines are angry for not getting the
same pay as their colleagues of Air-India for doing identical job
and working in the same organization. Some top officials,
including the expatriate chief operating officer Gustav Baldauf,
have quit because of that.
If this was not enough, over the years a large number of profit
making routes developed and operated by the national airline have
been gifted away, as alleged by the pilots' associations and
reports, which have not been denied yet. It appears the very
purpose of the merger of the two wings of the national airline has
been to create problems, disgrace it and make the demagogues speak
Once a negative image of the company has been created, it will
then become easier to hand it over to private hands. This is how
the Delhi and Mumbai airports were gifted away. From the ongoing
crisis in the flag carrier, the sole beneficiaries have been the
private airlines -- neither the pilots nor the management, nor,
for that matter, the public. This is nothing but robbing the
(R.N. Pathak is
former director with Indian Airlines.
He can be reached at