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Air India crisis - a carefully crafted design

Sunday May 08, 2011 09:30:34 AM, R.N. Pathak, IANS

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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 private hands.

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 clear stand.

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 about synergy.

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 against it.

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 nation's wealth.

(R.N. Pathak is former director with Indian Airlines.

He can be reached at







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