AI has become an easy target for bashing: Civil Aviation Minister

Frank Rausan Pereira

gajpatiThe Civil Aviation Ministry has been in the eye of a storm over the recent delays to Air India flights caused by two ministers of the BJP. The ministry has apologised to the passengers for the inconvenience caused and has said that such incidents will not happen again. Rajya Sabha TV spoke to Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapati Raju in an exclusive interview to hear his views on the controversies.

Here are excerpts from the interview:

Could the controversies have been avoided?
Unfortunately, Air India (AI) has become an easy target for bashing. They are unfortunate incidents that do happen. They get inquired into, but the initiative is to move towards on-time performance. Passengers are more time conscious these days and airlines are no longer elitist. There are certain aberrations that cause inconvenience and they have to be looked into. Such kind of things should never happen again and the inconvenience is obviously regretted.

Why is Air India a soft target for bashing?
Nobody protects the airline. It is not the job of the Civil Aviation Ministry to protect an airline. An airline has to protect itself. The ministry can’t just sit on one airline. Though the public sector is owned by the government, AI is essentially an airline. Delays can occur and they do occur worldwide. But delays should be far apart and not frequent. We monitor the performance of all airlines, especially within the country and we have found that AI is improving. So that’s good.

Why do some VIPs misuse their privileges?
Let’s not get confused by the word privilege. If a MP has any privilege it is freedom of speech; and that should be guarded. So that’s a privilege; the rest of it is basically courtesies. When members of Parliament are bashed up in the press for getting a cup of tea or a chair in a lounge, that’s not a privilege, it is a courtesy. In a large country like India, MPs travel a lot and become frequent flyers. So whatever a frequent flyer gets, generally a MP gets. I’ve been asking the press to tell me what it is that a MP gets which a frequent flyer doesn’t get. They haven’t been able to come up with anything concrete.

Is it difficult to avoid extending courtesies?
Airlines have become a part of the hospitality industry. They were once elitist, but not anymore. So, courtesies are important for any airline. Even the low-cost airlines are courteous.

For how long is the government going to carry the burden of AI on its shoulders?
Air India is a nice airline. It has to get its books right. Delaying an aircraft adds to cost. They should come up with strategies to bring down cost. The government has given it a turnaround plan, a financial reconstruction plan. They need to stick to it, work as a team and come out of it. We wish them well. It is in the country’s interest that they survive.

Is the government considering privatising Air India?
With the bad books that they have, it is difficult to think that a private person will come and take the burden straightaway. The airline needs to pull up its socks and work hard. The onus is on AI, they are the front.

Tell us something about the GAGAN satellite-based navigation system that you launched
Oh! GAGAN is a beautiful thing. It has more uses than aviation itself. Very few countries in the world have satellite navigation for aviation. There are only four countries that have it and India has reached that level. It helps in navigation, cutting fuel cost and it will help in cutting CO2 emissions. Besides aviation it has a lot of other uses. Our scientists have done a marvellous job by developing it. It was certified for the aviation sector by the DGCA a few days ago. Now our airlines can start using the facility.