Monday, October 24, 2016

Air India would like to restructure the entire loan: Ashwani Lohani

Days after civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju Pusapati announced on twitter that Air India has earned an operating profit of Rs 105 crore, DNA Money caught up with Ashwani Lohani, airline's chairman and managing director, during his recent visit to Mumbai. Lohani is nicknamed 'turn around man' after his earlier successful stints with the Ministry of Railways, Madhya Pradesh State Tourism Corporation, among others. In an interview with Shahkar Abidi, he spoke at length on various topics ranging from profitability, lack of pilots, induction of new aircraft and starting of new routes. Edited excerpts.
 Air India recently announced earning an operational profit based on decreased fuel prices and increased passenger demand. Considering that the airline has a debt of over Rs 50,000 crore, is the airline management or the government happy about it?
A. We do not need to go chest thumping about it as at the end of the day it is just operating profit for the year. We still have a huge debt to service which takes away Rs 4,000 annually. None-the-less, our performance has improved and a lot still needs to be done to improve it.
Q. Air India will soon be inducting more aircraft for expansion. Last time, around a decade ago, there were allegations of corruption and kickbacks when the aircraft were purchased...
A. I can only say that the orders for planes which will be inducted now had been made earlier and it is just that the delivery will be happening now.
Q. Poaching of pilots is an issue in the industry, with scores of pilots leaving the airlines including from Air India to join rival airlines, especially those from the Gulf. Further, Air India will be inducting new aircraft every month in the near future. How do you plan to tackle the situation as any shortage of pilot means more aircraft shall remain on the ground? Will you also opt for poaching?
A. In this year, we will be adding about six wide-body planes and around 10-12 additional A320s and 10 ATRs. In addition, there is already some shortage at present. So considering everything, we need around 300-400 pilots in the coming years and the process of recruitment is already on. However, we shall not indulge in unethical businesses of poaching as that would also not be good for the industry as a whole. We would rather like to see availability of enough pilots in the market for all the airlines.
24/10/16 Shahkar Abidi/DNA