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Empty sloganeering?
NATIONAL-ISTIC CARRIER

Can “Jai Hind” pull Air India out of the black hole it is in?

Pramod Mathew
By Pramod Mathew

Desk editor

It might be an albatross around the neck of taxpayers, but debt-laden Air India is keen to show its resolute commitment to the nation—in its own idiosyncratic way.

On March 04, the state-owned airline issued an advisory to its crew to raise the slogan “Jai Hind”—with “much fervour” and “a slight pause”—after every in-flight announcement. The directive, issued by Amitabh Singh, director of operations, is in line with the “mood of the nation,” said officials, according to the news agency PTI.

To be sure, this is the second time the airline has issued such a communication to its cabin crew.

In May 2016, during his first stint as chairman and managing director (CMD) of Air India, Ashwani Lohani had issued a similar directive: “The captain of a flight should often connect with passengers during the journey and, at the end of (the) first address, using the words ‘Jai Hind’ would make a tremendous impact.” Lohani began his second tenure as CMD last month, after serving as the railway board chairman for over a year.

The “tremendous impact” he had envisioned with the 2016 communique, though, remains elusive. Cost-conscious passengers continue to shun the full-service Air India in favour of the no-frills airlines IndiGo and SpiceJet.

Data from India’s civil aviation watchdog, the directorate general of civil aviation (DGCA), for January 2019 showed Air India’s market share (12.2%) slipping below that of SpiceJet (13.3%), which is now India’s third largest carrier based on the numbers.

Market leader IndiGo, meanwhile, did a greater service to the nation by expanding operations. It advanced its market share to 42.5% in January this year from 39.7% a year ago, all without the need to say “Jai Hind”. SpiceJet, too, served the country well by expanding regional operations under the government’s UDAN scheme to bring connectivity to underserved towns.

With a falling market share, debt pile exceeding Rs52,000 crore (around $7.3 billion), and a burden of excess staff thanks to indiscriminate hiring, the government has been keen to privatise the airline. But plans to find a suitor last May received no response.

Consequently, the carrier has been a drain on the government’s coffers as it is currently staying airborne thanks to repeated fund infusions from the government. The airline posted a net loss of Rs5,348.7 crore for 2017-18.

Passengers on their next Air India flight may rest assured that the airline is as patriotic as ever, but the flag carrier will do well to know that its own seatbelt sign is on.

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