So now finally after a long wait, Air India is back with its founders, the TATAs. But it is still a long way before the glory days are back. So let us look at some problems that will be addressed by TATA and at the end, I’ll share my opinion on the recovery of it.
All the issues that we’ll discuss are in some way or other related to the management of the airline only. So to avoid controversies we will stick to the facts and comparison to other airlines. Air India has many old aircraft. As the airframe ages, its maintenance cost increases. Though Air India’s average fleet age is about 10 years which is normal. But their most frequently used aircraft are reaching their ideal age. Before this age, the aircraft is considered new and after this age, they start to wear. It is predicted that if it goes like this then after a point most of the aircrafts in Air India’s fleet will be old and “wear-and-tear” would be more which would mean more maintenance.
Another issue is the lack of networking. Older inefficient aircrafts are used on high-density routes and newer ones on low-density routes. This means that older aircrafts will wear more and newer ones couldn’t be efficiently used. Air India has 4 Boeing 747, the queen of the skies as their VIP transport to the Indian government. But with the government opting for some new Boeing 777 for the head of state transportation and their (Air India’s 747) age is more than 25 years, they are a big liability on Air India.
Air India’s most long haul flights are from Boeing 777, and the average age of that is about 12.3 years which is not bad. But if you consider the better cabin product on 777 i.e. Emirates or Swiss which have their average age 9.2 and 4.8 years respectively. Air India has also got Boeing 787 whose average age is almost 7.6 years but still uses older less efficient 777 on the routes where Boeing 787 can be used. Mostly 787 are used on domestic travel. Also, 787 is superior to 777 as it is more recently developed and has a better passenger experience. So due to this “domestic usage” 787’s most efficient years are spent between Delhi to Bombay. Although its average age is 7.6 years, it’s still considered old as compared to other 787 operators. It is clearly seen on the aircraft too.
Route planning is a vast issue in Air India. For example, Air India primary operates its international flights from the primary domestic hubs like Delhi and Mumbai. Other secondary hubs like Bengaluru also have flights but their frequency is low. Air India is mostly working on a “HUB and SPOKE” model rather than trending the “POINT to POINT” model. Hub and Spoke model is successful if used efficiently like done by middle eastern airlines like Emirates and Etihad.
TATAs no doubt will address this issue. Another issue “considered” by many is the unsuitable usage of the fleet in terms of passenger capacity. Air India like Jet Airways developed its own first-class product, but it was rarely used. This meant that it predominantly remained empty which means the plane wasn’t effectively used.
But the biggest impact on Air India was the merger with Indian Airlines in 1953. It added the debt of IA on the merger which prevented the expansion and hampered the progress. Indian Airways’ debt and the increased number of employees. This is still evident today. There are more personals than required so we can say there’s underemployment. That’s why many coined the phrase ” Poor Maharaja, Rich population”. With TATA coming, they’ll look to clear this extra wage bill as soon as possible. But all the employees are under contract till 2023 so this means TATA can start their clean up after 2023.
Another big assent-cum-liability is Air India Express. It’s a budget airline within a full-scale carrier. This has never been successful. Therefore after the takeover TATAs are looking to sell Air India Express.
I feel that Air India’s glory days are long away from reality. Changes that’ll be evident from day 1 will be the customer hospitality and experience. As said before, all the extra woodwork will stay till 2023 and fleet restructuring will also take about 4-5 years at the minimum. Also, TATAs will make training better like in the glory days. So I the rebuild will take almost 10-15 years. This is my personal opinion, and I agree you may have a different opinion. I’ll be happy if the rebuild takes less time but the quality of the glory days should return no matter the time.
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Air_India_Boeing_787_Dreamliner_N1008S_PAS_2013_02.jpg (Cover Image)
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