Air India proposes cost-cutting steps to government

NEW DELHI: The government has asked Air India (AI) management to find out how much would refurbishing its aircraft interiors and ensuring fully functional in-flight entertainment (IFE), especially on ultra-long haul non-stops to US, will cost. Aviation minister Suresh Prabhu has asked AI chairman P S Kharola to come up with this figure and then a special fund will be sought from the finance ministry — over and above the bailout package — for the purpose.

“Big foreign airlines spend huge sums of money on interior upgradation. We cannot do that much but some things need to be ensured like having fully functional IFE screens on AI’s long-haul flights. We will seek money for this from finmin,” Prabhu said.

The airline management has made a presentation to the aviation ministry under which it has proposed cost-cutting and revenue enhancement measures. “Together, these two should lead to a benefit of Rs 2,000 crore per annum. In addition, the process of hiving off some of AI’s unsustainable debt to an SPV is also underway. The debt servicing saving will be in addition to the Rs 2,000 crore proposed by the airline,” aviation secretary R N Choubey said.

The ministry has asked AI to ensure that business class passengers on the Maharaja should get the same level of service that these high-paying flyers would get in other airlines. And economy passengers should also get value-for-money travel experience. One of the biggest complaints from passengers on AI’s long-haul flights — it is the only Indian airline to fly nonstop to North America and Australia with the Delhi-San Francisco direct being one of the longest in the world — is non-functional IFEs.

A senior AI official said the IFE systems on aircraft are getting old. “We are seeing if repair or replacement would be more cost-effective in the long run. We are seized of this issue,” the official said.

“There is no internet-on-board in any Indian carrier. Having a blank IFE in front of you for 17-18 hours (Delhi-SFO) or 14 hours (Delhi-New York) can be a big reason to switch over to another airline. The cabin crew has to keep apologising profusely for this to passengers but these are technical issues on which they have no control,” said a senior pilot.

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