Civil Aviation Minister Mahesh Sharma on Thursday ruled out any immediate plan to hand over Air India to a private entity and said a group of experts would soon be set up for advising the government on a revival roadmap for the loss-making airline.
“At present this (privatisation of Air India) is not under discussions… Air India has to have certain social obligations at the time of crisis, at the times of war or natural calamity like the one in Uttarakhand… So you have to address all these issues,” he told reporters during an aviation summit here.
He said there were also connectivity issues to the remote and sequestered areas like Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Himalayan states (which is provided by Air India).
Industry experts have long been demanding privatisation of the national airline citing its huge losses and debt, which stand around Rs 38,000 crore and Rs 40,000 crore respectively.
The carrier is flying on a Rs 30,231 crore bailout package by the government, approved in 2012 under its revival plan. Under the plan, the government will infuse this amount over a period of nine years to turn around the airline.
The financial health of most of the domestic private carriers is also not good. Many of them have been reporting losses and are under debt.
The minister, however, said that he was not averse to hire an industry expert from the market to head the national carrier if the rules allow such a provision.
“I am not against a private industry expert heading Air India,” he said.
Sharma said that the government would soon set up two advisory panels– one for Air India and another for the aviation industry– to take advisory inputs on several issues regarding the national carrier and also the aviation sector.
He said that the Government had short-listed a few names for the experts’ panel, which it had announced last month, adding, “We have short-listed names but we want to make it wider before finalising the list,” he said.
National carrier Air India has, on several occasion in the past, helped government in crisis situations, both within the country and abroad, despite the presence of more than half a dozen private carriers.
The largest evacuation in the history, in fact, was carried out by the state-run airline, when in 1990, the government airlifted over 1,70,000 Indians from Kuwait with the help of 488 flights in just 59 da