“Dear Guests, this is your Captain speaking … Welcome aboard this historic flight, which marks a special event. Today, Air India officially becomes a part of the Tata Group again, after seven decades. We look forward to serving you on this and every Air India flight with renewed commitment and passion. Welcome to the future of Air India! We hope you enjoy the journey. Thank you.”
This is a message that will be read by Air India pilots on every flight departing on Friday, January 28, according to what was one of the first circulars issued by Air India’s operations department after the Tata Group took over the airline from the government on Thursday. Smaller changes notwithstanding, one of the first priorities for the Tata Group following the takeover of Air India is to institute a senior management for the airline, according to sources. For now, while four of Air India’s existing directors are continuing to be on the board, the conglomerate is in closing stages of finalising the executive and non-executive directors for the new board.
“The names are close to being finalised but the security clearance can take some time,” a Tata Group official said. The Indian Express has learnt that Tata Group has interviewed several expatriates with significant airline experience for the post of Air India’s chief executive. Indications are that a top Mumbai-based FMCG leader could be nominated by Tata as a non-executive director of Air India.
For the remainder of the airline’s employees, the Tata Group is bound to retain the staff for a period of one year, as per the bidding conditions, following which it can offer a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) in the second year.
“Once the management is finalised, we will be announcing the plans and strategies for the airline over the next 10 days with the focus being on doing things the Tata way,” another company official said. “The work will begin now but any perceptible changes for both the employees and the customers could take a few months to get executed,” the official added.
Even before the formal handing over of the company to Tata, it is learnt that the conglomerate’s executives had been stationing at the airline’s headquarters in New Delhi to familiarise key employees across several departments about the Tata Group’s work culture. This familiarisation exercise has been ongoing since almost the last two months, one of the officials cited above said, adding that the focus of this process had been on instilling the private sector ethos in public-sector employees.
Air India and its low-cost subsidiary Air India Express add to a portfolio that boasts two airlines — Vistara and AirAsia India. According to sources, a merger between Air India Express and AirAsia India could be announced as early as next week. “The consolidation of operations could take a few more months,” one official said. Tata Group will also be looking to focus on turning the loss-making Air India around.
For the government, the disinvestment means the taxpayer no more funds the Rs 20-crore a day loss being incurred by the airline. Since 2009-10, the government has pumped in Rs 1.10 lakh crore to support Air India.