Hardeep Puri’s threat to shut Air India adds to panic in staff, may wean away customers

New Delhi, Nov 30, 2019-

With none other than Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri himself announcing from the floor of the Rajya Sabha that Air India would be shut down if privatization bid fails this time, morale of the airline has further plummeted and threatens to turn away customers in the peak travel season.

With airline’s performance already going down month after month, reflected by its poor on-time performance (OTP), the statement may not have come at a worse time.

In the last three months since August, the OTP of Air India has remained below 60 per cent at four metro airports of Bengaluru, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai (see chart). Compared to this, private airlines have logged over 70 per cent with Air Asia India, GoAir and IndiGo clocking nearly 80 per cent OTP.

A senior Air India official wishing not to be quoted said that employees across the rank and file are demoralized and it has been reflecting in lower on-time performance. He blamed fewer aircraft availability also for the poor show.

Many Air India employees termed the statement as irresponsible and said that it will wean away airline customers in the peak travel season. Further, it will have huge financial implications.

“The statement is totally irresponsible. We condemn it. The morale of the employees is already very low and such actions make things worse,” said J.B. Kadian, General Secretary, Air Corporations Employees’ Union (ACEU).

A senior airline official wondered who the Minister wants to threaten — employees or the investors as if the airline does not do well it will automatically shutter down.

“It is very demoralizing, honestly,” he said.

In an oral reply from a member in Rajya Sabha on Wednesday, Minister Puri had said that Air India will have to close down if it is not privatised.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of a private airline termed the Minister’s statement as a signal to the employees but did not rule it out as posturing.

With the airline failing to improve its performance, the Modi government has decided to completely exit the airline by privatizing it. The airline has stayed afloat on Rs 30,000 crore taxpayers’ money cleared by the UPA-II government in 2012.  (Agency)