Loss-making national carrier Air India will have to cease operations if it is not privatised, minister for civil aviation Hardeep Singh Puri told Rajya Sabha. “Your airlines would have to be closed down if not privatised,” Puri said while replying to a question. He added that a group of officials, under the chairmanship of home minister Amit Shah, is finalising the process of inviting bids from private sector for the national carrier. The company has lucrative landing slots in India and across the world, but has been a burden on the exchequer for years.
Last year it failed to attract bidders when it tried to sell a 76% stake in the airline and offload about $5 billion of Air India’s debt. It is now re-evaluating some of the terms and is open to selling the airline in its entirety, Puri said in response to another question. It is also significantly reducing its debt to make it more attractive. One of the biggest hurdles, however, is its large number of employees - Air India has about 9,400 permanent staff and 4,200 contract workers.
Puri said 25% salaries of various employees were withheld when the state-owned carrier was in a financial crisis. “There is full intention that before the privatisation or disinvestment is completed, this 25% would be reimbursed to all employees in all segments,” he said. “Issues being related to current employees, their health cover, how many would remain and what would happen, we are committed to secure a favourable deal for all employees. I would go to that extent,” he added. He also rejected recent reports suggesting that several pilots of Air India are leaving the airline as their salaries were not being paid on time. “Air India pilots are very well looked after and their salaries in relation to what other air carriers are offering is very good,” said Puri.