Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Going by Boeing...after missing the Bus

A couple of weeks back when a TV Media person asked Praful Patel, Hon. Minister for Civil Aviation about the Boeing controversy, he brushed it aside saying in effect that he could not be bothered with such a petty matter as he had to think of future planning.

Well said! The Minister truly has his hands more than full trying to extricate the national airlines and the entire civil aviation set up from the mess that has been created over the past half century. He should have more weighty things on his mind than a measly $ 7 billion deal. Anyhow, Boeing obviously must have complied with all the requirements related to the Tender in order to win the contract. To imply any impropriety on the part of any one in Air India or in the parent Ministry is surely scandalous.

As to the National Carriers, their performance makes pathetic reading ( After the flip-flop over disinvestment, the Government has suddenly thought it fit to commit resources itself to increase the size of the fleet and give Air India a make-over!

Over the years, a combination of mismanagement, interference by Bureaucrats and Ministers in the Civil Aviation Ministry and general neglect in matters that really needed to be given attention to, has brought Air India to a low level of credibility and esteem.

Despite being the National Carrier of a country with the second largest population in the world, Air India’s fleet comprises of merely 35 ageing aircraft. When juxtaposed with the fleets of countries of similar importance (China), Airlines with similar history (Singapore, Malaysia, Brazil) or even small countries like Pakistan, Thailand or Emirates, Air India’s fleet size is a joke. Consider:


Fleet Size


Fleet Size

China Southern




Chinese Eastern




Air China












The country has Air Service Agreements with 93 countries and carriers of 49 countries are operating to India whereas Indian Carriers (mainly Air India), fly to only 25 countries. Even where it does fly, Air India has been unable to utilize its entitlement fully. e.g. Whereas Lufthansa operates 32 flights a week, Air India operates only 14 to Germany. Where foreign carriers utilize 70% of their entitlements, the National Carrier is able to utilize only 30%. That the Airline, more so the Government, is unaware of the tremendous potential that India has, was amply demonstrated when Singapore Airlines recently made a request for permission to operate 210 flights a week out of India.

The tremendous growth even upstart Airlines have achieved in recent years has shown that Government has been blissfully ignorant of the developments around the world.

Even as far as the domestic sector is concerned, the ease with which private airlines have usurped the turf occupied by Indian Airlines over the years and the fact that Indian Airlines has ceded as much as 55% of the market to the new airlines makes one wonder whether this has happened by default or design! Even now, the new airlines seem to acquire new aircraft with relative ease where Indian Airlines is struggling to even take decisions on making additions to the fleet.

More important than the quantitative side, is the qualitative aspect of Air India’s operation that should cause more concern. Over the years, Air India has been smugly satisfied in carrying our Desi brothers from and to the country. Its route selection seems to be always focused on carrying the maximum numbers of Desi passengers. Nothing wrong per se, but its low exposure to the truly International Traveler has meant that its service standards have remained way below the levels expected by International Travelers. Coupled with its legendary record of delayed departures and arrivals, the low level of service has meant that the Business Traveler has largely preferred to give Air India a go-by. Many knowledgeable travelers have always carried a strong feeling that somehow, the poor service record can be attributed to Air India’s staffing policies, which have to be based on the social objectives of the Government, viz. the Reservation Policy.

The woes of Air India are many and it would take a Herculean effort to give a real make-over to the Airline and its image.

That, of course, is not all. Assuming that the Government of the day has the right vision to bring up the National Airlines to truly international levels and significantly expand the fleet beyond the 50-60 new aircraft which are being talked about, there would still be a lot to be done on the civil aviation infrastructure side.

Air transport, domestic and international, passenger as well as cargo has a potential to literally explode in the next five years. With the Airports which are qualitatively and in terms of capacities, not very different from the National Airlines, it would be hard to handle the higher levels of traffic. By no means, would it be easy to upgrade the Airports, which are like cow sheds when compared to the best in the world, to meet the needs of the 21st Century.

It remains to be seen whether the Government considers itself capable of achieving these tasks or is only delaying the process of disengagement and disinvestment. The country has lost heavily over the years by way of lost opportunities, due to inept management by the Government. Huge resources invested over the years have not yielded the desired results. It is now time for accountability. It would simply not do to commit further public resources and THEN hand over the assets and/or reins to outsiders on a platter – a possibility, which is already being forecast by some.


At July 16, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It appears that the Minister for Civil Aviation has finally started acting fast but still the matters are getting bogged down in administrative red-tape.

At November 04, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

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At September 12, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe PIA has a fleet of 33 jets and around 10 turbo-props!


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