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Maharaja's Homecoming: Air India Makes Safe Landing on Tatas' Tarmac After Decades of Turbulence

Air India for years now has been synonymous with flight delays, rundown cabins, rude customer service, and piling losses. (File image/AP)

Air India for years now has been synonymous with flight delays, rundown cabins, rude customer service, and piling losses. (File image/AP)

The meeting on Thursday between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and N Chandra, chairman of Tata Sons, signifies the return of India's iconic carrier to arguably its most prestigious business house.

The Maharaja has come back full circle. After almost 7 decades, Air India officially touches down at ‘home’ — the Tatas. The meeting on Thursday between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and N Chandra, chairman of Tata Sons, signifies the return of India’s iconic carrier to arguably its most prestigious business house.

The fall of the Maharaja has been steep and stark. Long gone were the glory days under JRD Tata. Air India for years now has been synonymous with flight delays, rundown cabins, rude customer service, and piling losses.

ALSO READ | Tata Takes Over Air India: Global Expat CEO, Enhanced Flight Services, What Changes for Maharaja

This is why the-then aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri’s announcement of 100% divestment for Air India was received with widespread scepticism over whether anyone would even be interested in buying this white elephant and attempting the Herculean task of turning it around.

But then, on October 8, 2021, the Tata Group reclaimed Air India from the government for Rs 18,000 crore after a competitive bidding process. After that, a letter of intent was issued to the Tatas on October 11, confirming the government’s willingness to sell its 100% stake in the airline. The government signed the share purchase agreement for the deal on October 25.

And now the Tatas have drawn out a plan to restore the Maharaja to full-blown aviation royalty. The three key priorities: improving time performance, resolving union issues, and revamping on-board services

In fact, if you’re planning to travel by Air India this week, you may already see the changes in the form of enhanced inflight meals, crew appearance, and even a recorded message from Ratan Tata himself.

But the revival has to be more than just cosmetic. The long-term challenge is where the main problem lies—how to turn Air India profitable. After all, the Rs 18,000-crore deal saw the Tatas give up Rs 2,700 crore upfront and take an over Rs 15,300-crore debt.

ALSO READ | Air India Divestment Complete: As Maharaja Returns to Tata Cockpit, Here’s a Timeline of Major Events

The other challenge is trust. While some of the airline’s pilots have written to the management seeking corrections to deductions in their arrears and payment of pending dues, others are hoping for a more streamlined functioning.

With the existing board having resigned to make way for the new one, the next few days and weeks will see some key things being fixed—from the merger of Air India Express and Air Asia to the appointment of a new CEO, and the incorporation of more routes. All in the hope that the Maharaja rules the skies again.

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first published:January 27, 2022, 18:19 IST