On a mission to turn around its fortunes in the next one-and-a-half years, Air India is gearing up to improve its regional connectivity and induct at least 40 narrow-body aircraft next year even as it proposes to woo the rail users with attractive offers to the wait-listed passengers.
Sharing his priorities and the way forward to transform the national carrier into a profit-making entity, its Chairman and Managing Director Ashwinin Lohani, better known as ‘Mr turnaround man’, feels there is a need to infuse a positive vibe in the ranks and files in the state carrier as there is no reason why Air India should suffer.
“We are clear in our priorities. My aim is to turnaround the airline in the next one-and-a-half years and we have set in motion a set of priorities which we seek to attain,” he told Express.
The buzz in the Airlines House here is that he piloted some key decisions in increasing Air India’s global network, the latest being the announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the launch of a direct flight between Ahmedabad and London.
While theAir India is excited before the launch of its longest haul international flight between Delhi and San Francisco from December 2, Lohani said they could explore operating flights between India and South American destinations given the increased demand from passengers and launching direct flights to continent Africa.
“We are also “gung-ho” about increasing connectivity to Tier-II and Tier-III cities within the country, exploiting the economic transformation of these cities and rising aspirations of the fast growing middle class,” said Lohani.
Air India recently connected Diu from Mumbai and has reached out to cities such as Gorakhpur and plans to increase frequency between Mumbai to Surat and Bhuj and Gwalior. A regular flight will be introduced between Delhi and Pantnagar (Uttarakhand) from December 1 even as it has increased its frequency to Dehradun now.
The new routes could be serviced with the induction of 40 new aircraft that Air India proposes to hire on lease, but Lohani refused to divulge further details.
Unknown to some, Lohani belongs to the Indian Railway Traffic Service cadre but has never lost sight of the happenings in the airline sector. He is credited to have revived the fortunes of India Tourism Development Corporation as well as Madhya Pradesh tourism heading both, thus giving him the tag of ‘Mr Turnaround”.
Outspoken, who does not hesitate highlighting the rot in governance, Lohani had remarked in a blog posting in July 2009 when he was the divisional railway manager of Delhi division that the recent downturn in the fortunes of Air India makes an interesting reading.
“Amazing how Indian bureaucrats can screw a high-performing public-sector corporation in a short timeframe,” he had said. Today, he is confident that the revival plan being charted out will begin to show results.
“Currently we hold a 16 per cent share in the market. We not only propose to increase it as well as raise the level of punctuality by 10% to 90%.”
“The airline also wishes to increase its occupancy rate from 72% to 90% through various schemes and promotional activities,” he said, adding talks are on with IRCTC to roll out offers for the wait-listed passengers so that they reach their destinations without having to cancel their journey.
Ever since the approval of the financial restructuring plan, the operating loss of the airline has reduced from Rs 5,138 crore in 2011-12 fiscal to Rs 2,171 crore as of the last fiscal and the net loss has come down to Rs 5,547 crore in 2014-15.
Air India plans to acquire 40 narrow bodied aircraft on lease next year
New Delhi-San Francisco direct flight to be launched on December 4
Plans are afoot to introduce flights to South American market, Africa
Attractive schemes to raise market share, which include tie-ups with IRCTC and offering airline tickets to waitlisted train passengers
Punctuality from 10 per cent to 90 per cent
To raise occupancy rate from 72 per cent to 90 per cent
Connecting Tier-II and Tier-III cities to get more passengers and revenue
Operating loss in 2011-12 Rs 5,138 cr
Operating loss in 2014-15 Rs 2,171 cr
Net loss in 2014-15 Rs 5,547 cr