Arora gone, but staff, mgmt issues haunt AI Express

Written by Shaheen Mansuri | Mumbai | Updated: Nov 23 2010, 04:36am hrs
Air India Express, which hogged the limelight last week after it sacked its chief operating officer (COO) Pawan Arora, needs to immediately address critical issues related to staff, management and operations to get back to health, industry sources said.

The airline which mainly flies to West Asia and South East Asia, along with its 10% capacity deployed even on domestic routes, needs to hire cabin and cockpit crew to improve its utilisation hours from around 9 hours to 11 hours and above. Sources said there has been a drastic curtailing of AI Express flights in recent months due to an exodus of its cabin and cockpit crew after an AI express flight crashed in Mangalore in May this year killing over 150 people. The airline needs 440 cabin crew, but has around 361, hence, flights per week were reduced to 155 from 205. The airline currently falls short of around 20% cabin crew staff.

When contacted on the matter, an AI spokesperson said, Recruitment in the cabin and cockpit crew category are being done in phases as per the requirement. The airline is conducting interviews and appointments are done, provided the candidate meets our standards.

A senior official at the carrier adds that there are plans to increase frequencies to get back to the original 205 number. He further says, The airline was seriously contemplating to get a certification to fill up more capacity of B737 aircraft which it uses. Some technicalities are to be complied with in order to get a certification at a cost of around $3 million. If the carrier gets this certification, it can fill upto 186 seats when compared with 145-160 which it fills currently. The carrier mostly has labour working in the Gulf as its regular passengers. There are around 4-5 lakh such passengers from South India, and hence, the airline can fill in more seats to match the demand. The average age of the 21 aircraft which the airline has in its fleet is 3.2 years.

AI Express, which has annual revenues of Rs 1,700 crore and around 1,000 staff is also needs to prune its management. The airline currently does not have a CEO and now, has no COO either. Executives of the parent AI, look after major operations including route planning and engineering services at AI Express, for which the airline gives away 25% of its revenues," says a source at the carrier, adding that globally low cost subsidiaries similar to AI Express are managed independent of their parent carriers. If the airline had its own support system in place, it would not have had to shell out over Rs 400 crore to its parent airline for such services.

Last, the carrier needs to scale up operations domestically to 27% from the current 10%, as per the revival plan unveilled by AI's CMD Arvind Jadhav last year. This will help generate healthy revenues since domestically passenger demand has shot upto 19% in the January-September 2010 period when compared with the same period last year. All domestic airlines carried 373.20 lakh passengers as against 314.85 lakh according to the Directorate General of Civil Aviation data.