Will the Tatas be able to take care of weary air travellers?

The arrivals of Air Asia and Tata-Singapore Airlines could make air travel affordable, especially to tier-II cities

In the next few months, Air Asia India is expected to commence its airline operations with five aircrafts. As a budget airline, though it has not yet finally announced the type of aircraft it proposes to use, which could be Airbus A320. It plans to provide better regional connectivity, and is in various stages of getting approvals and clearances, like air operating permits (AOP) etc.


In a candid comment, S Ramadorai, the vice-chairman of Air Asia India, who retired from TCS, after 37 years spotless service, but who still continues to be its vice chairman, felt, that he was probably chosen to take this responsibility because of his track record of ethical conduct, whom the management could trust absolutely. He expects the airline to be able to make air travel affordable to one and all, particularly the first time air-travellers, and make it a pleasurable and memorable experience.


This may sound like Capt Gopinath's view when he launched the Deccan Air, but, hopefully, Air Asia will be able to deliver what it promises to do, as it would have learnt from the pitfalls of the rest of the airline promoters, including Gopinath.


Airline connectivity to Tier-II cities and towns are few and far between. Hence, Air Asia plans to fill this void and make some of them as its regional hubs, which would be much less expensive than the bigger metros, which are crowded.


The civil aviation ministry, now realising the active interest shown by airlines, including the anticipated arrivals of Air Asia and Tata-Singapore Airlines, has persuaded governments of Goa, Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra to lower taxes on aviation turbine fuel (ATF). It has also begun to modernise both Chennai and Kolkata airports and plans to take similar steps to improve conditions in 35 other non-metro airports. User development fees for exiting passengers from Delhi and Mumbai has been cut by 50% by the Director General of Civil Aviation.


As the Air Asia India plans were in progress, both Tata Sons and Singapore Airlines (SIA) announced their joint venture to set up Tata-SIA full service airline, with Tatas holding 51% with 49% balance with SIA. They plan to bank upon Airbus A320 and propose to invest $100 million for this venture. Current plans are for Tata-SIA to be based out of New Delhi and focus on Mumbai and Bangalore. It is in the process of obtaining the AOPs. It is most likely that Tata-SIA will become operative in the early part of 2015, as we feel that it would like to watch the development and progress that Air Asia India will make, and learn from the experience.


In the meantime, Air India, the official national carrier, has had many recent ups and downs; in fact, more downs than ups! There has been a lot of talk and debates whether the government should continue to patronise the loss-making airways, and the issue of privatisation has often come up as a major point.


Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of Tata Sons, who we know is an ace pilot himself, is reported to have said: "as and when it happens - privatisation of the national carrier, Air India, we will be very happy to look at it." We may remember that Tata Sons sacrificed its civil aviation business decades ago, and it would be a fitting tribute to the foresight of the Tata founder that this is returned to them!


(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)

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