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NEW DELHI, India – India’s permanently redlined airline, saddled with the most liberal dole system of free domestic and international tickets to over 24,000 working and roughly 20,000 retired employee

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NEW DELHI, India – India’s permanently redlined airline, saddled with the most liberal dole system of free domestic and international tickets to over 24,000 working and roughly 20,000 retired employees and their families, has now taken the bizarre decision to allow the children of these employees to inherit the right to free tickets even after the employee has passed away.

According to a memorandum issued by Air India’s executive director (Personnel) dated April 11, 2014: “The spouse of a deceased employee can transfer his/her passages to his/her family members (of the deceased employee) as per the definition of family provided for in passage regulations i.e. self, parents and children, stepchildren and legally adopted children.”

It further states “that a total of four passages only out of the total entitlement can be transferred to brothers/ sisters/ son-in-law/ daughter-in-law.” The entitlement of retired deputy MDs has been enhanced to that of functional directors.

The memorandum says: “This issues with the approval of CMD (Rohit Nandan). The copy has also been moved to CMD and other senior officials.” Air India spokesperson Prasada Rao confirmed that.

“Any order or memorandum is issued only after the airline board members take a decision on a matter concerned,” he said.

There is, however, some cloudiness over veracity of the April 11 order (see accompanying report ‘Fake or Not?’). The loss-making airline has an army of 24,000 permanent employees, one of the highest amongst airlines worldwide when it comes to aircraft-workforce ratio.

The decision to shower the inheritance bonanza on Air India staffers comes at a time when the airline is saddled with a whopping cumulative loss of Rs33,200 crore as on March 31, 2013.

The cash-strapped airline has been defaulting on the payment of its fuel bills and airport charges. Air India is expected to post losses of Rs3,900 crore for 2013-14. Ironically, the airline has largely failed to implement the turnaround plan worked out to bail the ailing carrier. The airline is surviving on government funds and a hefty Rs14,000 crore of taxpayer money has been infused into national carrier as fresh equity for financial restructuring.

Apart from this the airline has got a separate Rs30,000 crore bail-out package for the next 10 years from the government. ‘Irregularities’ “Despite the lifeline from the Centre, there is no end to irregularities taking place,” a senior Air India official told Mail Today on condition of anonymity. “Now with the change of guard at the Centre, we hope the new government will look into the irregularities and highhandedness of the Air India management which must be held accountable for all the mess or its downfall,” he added. The rot runs deep indeed.

Government officials on deputation to Air India have been brazenly availing of free tickets they are not entitled to. Documents accessed by Mail Todayreveal that the chief vigilance officer (CVO) of Air India, Sundari Subramanian Pujari, a 1980 batch Indian Defence Estates Service (IDES) officer on deputation with the airline, has booked executive class Delhi-Sydney-Delhi return tickets for her son Adit Subramaniam Pujari and daughter-inlaw Kriti Awasthi. These tickets are upgradable to first class.

The son and daughter-in-law of the CVO have been booked on an AI flight to Sydney on June 3 with a return ticket for June 21. These tickets would have cost ordinary mortals over Rs5 lakh.

“The CVO is the official watchdog of the government to check corruption and if this office is extended favours, the vigil against corruption is likely to get compromised,” said an official.

Air India which operates its brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner on the Delhi-Sydney-Delhi route is incurring losses of Rs70 lakh every day. The airline’s cumulative losses on the route since the launch of 787 services since August 2013 alone stand at Rs80 crore.

According to the rules of the Department of Public Enterprises (DPE), any IAS or other allied services officer who is posted on deputation to Air India is not an employee of airline and is not entitled to free tickets for personal use or for family members.

Violation of DPE guidelines is more the norm in Air India; even CMD Rohit Nandan had in January this year availed of free business class seats for family and as well as extended family members.

Air India sold its 777s at throwaway prices

Air India sold five of its Boeing 777 LR (long-range) planes to Etihad Airways at a throwaway price. All these planes were brought in 2007 and were supposed to operate for the next 25 years.

This is what former civil aviation minister Praful Patel had told the government while ordering the planes in 2005.

The planes, purchased just six years ago, were sold for a meagre Rs2,135 crore, which works out to Rs427 crore per plane. This is one-third of Rs1,400 crore spent on purchasing each of these eight planes that AI ordered in 2005.

AI had ordered 111 Boeings and Airbus in 2005 worth Rs55,000 crore. Interestingly, Etihad has already announced plans to deploy these AI aircraft on long-haul routes like Abu Dhabi-Los Angeles from June 2014 even though Air India had discarded them on the ground that they were fuel-guzzlers. AI has now lined up another three Boeing 777-200 LRs for sale after it got the government nod to sell the other five.

Some AI pilots argue: “When Etihad can use these Boeing 777 LRs on its crucial routes, why can’t Air India do the same instead of selling these planes at throwaway prices”.

Even Japan Airlines has withdrawn its Boeing 787 Dreamliners on the Delhi-Tokyo route and replaced them with Boeing 777s, they said. According to AI pilots, there is no logic as to why an airline will sell off and not lease these planes, which are only six years old.

“It is an asset to have any new aircraft as Boeing or Airbus will deliver any new aircraft to an airline only in next three-four years,” they said.

Fake or not?

The Air India management issued a sweeping order dated April 11, 2014, offering unlimited first class confirmed tickets to both past and present MD/CMD and their family members.

The order says: “Both past and present MD/ CMDs and their family members are entitled for unlimited passages on definite (confirmed seat) basis,” adding that “this issues with the approval of CMD (Rohit Nandan)”.

When Mail Today contacted Air India Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) Rohit Nandan for his comments on the issue, however, he said that the document could be fake.

An hour later, Air India Executive Director Deepa Mahajan contacted Mail Today and confirmed that the order in the possession of Mail Today was genuine.

But she claimed that a second order had been issued on April 16 which states that “only those MD/CMDs who were permanent employees of erstwhile Indian Airlines or Air India, their family members are entitled to the passage as per the entitlement as permanent employee of the company.”

This would mean that Rohit Nandan who is an IAS officer on deputation as CMD would not be entitled to this facility. The Air India spokesperson confirmed that any memorandum is issued only after the airline board headed by the CMD takes a decision.

This would mean that Rohit Nandan was aware of the contents of the order issued on April 11 which entitles him to a lifetime of unlimited first class confirmed tickets on Air India flights. It remains a puzzle why he said the April 11 order could be fake.

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Ang panguna nga editor mao si Linda Hohnholz.