Saving Air India

Before agreeing to a bailout, the government should insist on a complete restructuring of Air India to ensure that the airline will survive and will not seek another handout. By Vivek Sharma

By the exalted standards of accountability our politicians set for themselves, the civil aviation minister's directive to NACIL to come up with a revival plan within 30 days or face disownment by the government was hardly amusing.

The airline, our so called national carrier, is undoubtedly in trouble. With estimated loss of Rs5,000 crore for the most recent financial year, which can only increase in the current year, NACIL is trying very hard to stay airborne. It is in obvious need of government support, not just capital, but every kind of support.

But, when NACIL asked for a bailout, the minister feigned outrage and publicly stated that there will be no free lunches. Unless the airline management can demonstrate future viability there will be no further government support, the minister insists.

As usual, the minister has conveniently forgotten that he himself was the airline's de-facto head for the last five years. Lording over Air India was the most attractive part of the aviation minister's job profile until recently when more interesting endeavors like private airports caught his attention.

Until now when it is politically appropriate to disown the sickly child called Air India, there was no an indication ever that this minister didn't really enjoy that part of the job. He should try much harder to disown responsibility for the mess the airline is in.

Why is it that Air India is in such a pathetic condition that, despite being a fully government owned entity, its viability is doubted by the aviation ministry itself?