Air India Chairman and Managing Director Ashwani Lohani on Saturday said that the debt-ridden airline needed to survive till it is sold, and that expectation for a “radical improvement bordering on a turnaround” was impractical.
“I wonder why is it so difficult for this appreciation to sink in and also that in this environment of disinvestment, expecting a radical improvement bordering on a turnaround is an impractical thought,” Lohani wrote in a Facebook post. “That output can be given sans inputs is a grossly impractical thought. Air Indians are indeed putting in their best even at this critical juncture and that is very very appreciable.”
The airline’s debt, which stood at Rs 55,000 crore at the end of March 2018, grew to Rs 58,351.93 crore at the end of March 2019. Last month, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had said that the airline was expected to be sold by March 2020. Sitharaman claimed there was a lot of interest in Air India.
In March 2018, the government had planned to divest 76% stake in Air India, ignoring a parliamentary panel’s recommendation to give the debt-ridden airline five years to revive itself. The proposed stake sale, however, failed to take off as the government did not receive any expressions of interest from potential bidders by the end of the deadline.
Early in November, Lohani had assured employees that the airline was taking necessary steps to protect their interests. He wrote an open letter to the employees, saying that the company’s disinvestment will enable sustainability and help attain the full inherent potential of the national carrier.
On November 27, Union Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri told the Parliament that the Centre will have to shut down the national carrier if it was not privatised. However, he added that a favourable deal would be negotiated for all employees.