With reference to Anjuli Bhargava's piece, "Three ideas that Air India should fly past" (October 18), it's heartening to learn that Air India (AI) aims to increase its operating profits in FY17 on the back of higher revenue and better fleet utilisation, after making an operating profit of Rs 105 crore in FY16, nearly a decade after its merger with Indian Airlines in 2007. The real challenge before Ashwani Lohani, AI's incumbent chairperson, is to reduce rising debts and servicing thereof.
It is to Lohani's credit that he took AI out of the jam by ushering in some out-of-the-box ideas in the context of sales, marketing, promotions and brand-building. He also plans to rejig debt worth Rs 10,000 crore under the scheme for sustainable restructuring of bad assets floated by the Reserve Bank of India by roping in SBI Capital Markets.
Bhargava has said that, of late, there has been a distinct and visible improvement in service and on-time performance of AI flights, representing a paradigm shift in its archaic approach, which is now more commercial-oriented.
Three areas of concern highlighted by Bhargava may be properly evaluated by AI's top management. In no case should the dismissed pilots, who had refused to rejoin duty and held AI to ransom during their 2012 strike, be taken back. This would set a bad precedent and denigrate its management (read: the central government, as AI is the state carrier). AI must break out of its image of being a strike-prone airline.
I differ with Bhargava over AI's ticket-pricing mechanism that would compare with trains. This move seems to be initially aimed at securing AI a safer place in the face of stiff competition from private players on domestic routes. Something is always better than nothing: Operating flights with empty seats could be demoralising and cause huge financial losses.
Bhargava's apprehension that "anyone within the airline or outside with influence can try and get hold of cheaper tickets as part of a last-minute sale" can be addressed by introducing checks and balances such as putting the actual seat availability position on its website in this era of the most modern technology.
Kumar Gupt, Panchkula
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