Monday, September 18, 2017

‘No reason why Air India can’t run as a PSU’

Air India’s impending privatisation has not hit its expansion plans. While employees are naturally anxious about its implications, there is no sense of fear in the ranks, says the national carrier’s new CMD Rajiv Bansalin an interview on board the airline’s inaugural Delhi-Copenhagen flight. While Air India wants to maintain operational profit, it is also looking to raise fresh loans. Excerpts:

How does it feel to take charge after the government decided to privatise Air India?

Privatising is a different issue as it is for the shareholders to see. The shareholder is the Government of India and it is examining it. My job is to run the airline professionally and profitably. So I am channelling my energy into that.

Have you set goals for yourself, prior to privatisation?

My focus is not to enhance value for privatisation, which could be a side benefit. My focus is on running the airline. I have been here for about 25 days now and my only focus is to run the airline on time. I can’t monitor all the flights, so I’m monitoring the first flight of the day, inter-metro flights and five ultra long-haul flights.

How is the mood of employees ahead of privatisation?

Employees are naturally feeling [that] it’s an uncertain future. Any employee would; they have been in the airline for long and the government is now saying the carrier will be privatised. So, there is an apprehension and uncertainty. My feeling is that a lot of employees feel they are good at their job and they will continue to get employment under the new owners. So, they are not unduly worried. Another thing is that the average age of my employees is quite high — about 53-54, and the retirement age is 58. So, a large number of employees will retire in the next 3-4 years. The government has a reasonably good experience in privatising the Delhi and Mumbai airports where AAI employees were assured that they would continue to be in employment till superannuation and I hope that the government would give such an offer to my employees too. But on the whole, [there is] some uncertainty but no fear.

What progress have you made in on-time performance so far?

We pushed very hard. I roughly monitor around 30% of flights. There are about 20 inter-metro first flights of the day and there are about five ultra long haul flights. We have witnessed significant improvement in the on-time performance (OTP). There are some bad days but on some good days we have crossed 90%. My target is to consistently maintain 90% OTP and towards that end, we have improved our ground handling. We have looked at all points of delays and corrected them. We have also taken action against any shortcomings on the part of vendors or our own staff.

Can airlines be run as professionally under government control as private airlines?

There are some challenges and some opportunities also. Opportunity... in the sense that it’s a national carrier and I have a huge commitment from the government that all government officials will fly by Air India. It’s a big comfort for me. Running it as a government entity has other challenges as it’s not easy to operate a ‘hire and fire’ policy. It’s a matter of building processes, so if you do that you can work in the PSU environment also. I see no reason why we can’t run as a public sector airline.
18/09/17 Somesh Jha/The Hindu