Air India’s “books are so bad” that nobody will buy it even if the government wanted to sell off the national carrier, Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju said, on Thursday.
Ruling out disinvestment in the carrier that has a debt of some Rs 50,000 crore, Raju at the same time made it plain that the taxpayers’ money cannot be committed “for eternity”. “Its (Air India) books are so bad. I don’t think that even if it is offered, anybody would come for it,” he said.
Grappling with mounting debts and tough business conditions, Air India has been in the red since the merger of then Air India and Indian Airlines in 2007 and is staying afloat on a Rs 30,000-crore bailout package extended by the erstwhile UPA regime.
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Asserting that unlike others, he would not like to get into “Air India bashing”, the Minister also said that the carrier needs to function in a more cohesive manner to deliver on its turnaround goals. “It is a nice airline. I like Air India but I can’t commit taxpayers’ money for eternity. That is not done,” Raju told in an interview.
Buoyed by improving financial situation and high growth potential of the domestic aviation market, Air India is putting in plans to expand its fleet by adding another 100 aircraft in the next four years.
“My feeling is that the cohesiveness of the team has to increase and where they have worked as a team, they have delivered, and where they have not worked as a team, they have pulled in different sides. Nobody can put the clock back. The quicker they realise it the better,” he noted.
While there has been no official announcement so far, the airline has managed to eke out an operational profit of around Rs 6-8 crore in the previous financial year. “The fact that they have not made an operating loss speaks volumes,” Raju said.
Confident that the national airline has the capability of flying high, the Minister said it is working in that direction and in a veiled reference to criticisms, emphasised that he does not like the idea of Air India “bashing”.
As per latest DGCA data, Air India ferried a total of 11.98 lakh passengers on its domestic network in April, cornering a market share of 15.1 per cent during this period.