Change is in the air: how India’s biggest aviation comeback is taking shape. When they came across the watermelon problem for the first time, When the Tata team was doing due diligence before bidding for Air India, they saw three people and one watermelon at the airline’s catering office near Mumbai airport in the middle of 2021.
One person was cutting the watermelon, another was packing it, and the third was carrying the packed slices to the next room. When the team asked what was going on, they were told that since there were fewer flights due to the pandemic, there was less work at the time.
There would be enough work for three, if not three people. The team witnessed Air India’s inefficiency first-hand. “These processes must be effectively automated. Three people were clearly a lot for such a simple job, “says an anonymous source. Soon after, the Tata team discovered another feature of Air India: the advantages it enjoyed as a government-owned airline.
A customs officer allegedly sat in the Air India area to clean up alcohol served on flights, they discovered. Simplify the process of obtaining permits. It’s a privilege that no other airline will ever have, “says another source.
In light of this, the Tata Group devised a 100-day plan late last year to improve efficiencies in Air India’s operations while foregoing perks. On January 27, the airline was sold to Tata.
The group is fully aware that it does not have the aeronautical skills needed to operate an airline in India. As a result, a major overhaul of the airline’s management can only take place after a new CEO takes office, says one of the aforementioned sources. However, there are weak points like service level, punctuality (OTP), food quality, etc. During the first hundred days, they can be considered results and will be visible to all, “adds the source.
The group’s confidence has also increased thanks to the enthusiasm of Air India employees for the acquisition of Tata. Half the job becomes easier if the employees are on board, “says a third manager. Air India, as a government entity, previously prioritized seniority over efficiency, but this is gradually changing. Previously, premium-class cabins were reserved for older cabin crew members.
Now, cabin crew members for premium cabins are chosen based on their behavior, skills, etc. “Seniority is no longer a criterion,” specifies the responsible third party. This means the airline has started appointing younger cabin crew members for premium class cabins, stripping the privileges of senior lots, which has caused some consternation. Soft skills training will also be provided to the crew to raise standards at all levels. According to the aforementioned source, “soft skills training is planned for cabin crew, which will help improve service standards.”
Air India’s flight delays used to be a major source of concern for passengers. This had resulted in numerous complaints and a situation in which many business travellers were hesitant to book the national carrier because they were unsure of making it to their meetings on time.
However, in March, Air India completed 91.2% of its flights on time at the four main airports of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad, compared to 71.7% in December 2021. The advantage is unequivocal. A source who did not wish to be identified said: “No crew members arrive late at the airport, and the first flight leaves each airport 10 minutes earlier.” This ensures that all flights are on time throughout the day.
According to the source cited above, another welcome change is that the new management closely monitors the Integrated Operations Control Center (IOCC) to identify areas for improvement. IOC has always been there. It was supposed to be taken seriously, but it was never. This is now being closely monitored and there are clearly benefits, “the source explains.”
Despite some progress, Air India’s situation is far from ideal. Reservations have been made for a flight that was not due to take place last month. When the passengers arrived at the airport, the airline had to rush to find them a flight. Miscommunication between the planning and reservation departments is mentioned in the incident report.
This is extreme inefficiency and would not happen on any efficiently operated airline. Such incidents do not inspire confidence, “says an anonymous travel industry insider. Another area of focus of the 100-day plan is Air India Express, a low-cost subsidiary of Air India that operates internationally to West Asia and South East Asia.
Air India Express, a low-cost subsidiary of Air India, is a focus area of the 100-day plan. Changes to AI Express are aimed at improving efficiency and increasing ancillary revenue. For example, AI Express, for example, previously allowed passengers to pre-book meals but not buy them on board.
The airline now offers the buy-on-board service, which other low-cost carriers have always provided. One of the aforementioned sources says, “Buy onboard has been well received.
The airline is also working to improve aircraft utilization and is preparing to hire more cabin crew as it expands its flight schedule. According to Tata’s plan, Air Asia India will be merged with AI Express. The two airlines operate in the low-cost space, and best practices from both companies will be implemented to improve system efficiency.
More changes are afoot as the airline abandons its sarkari courtesies and kowtowing. A senior Air India official suspended three airline agents working at Kolkata airport in 2014 for “non-compliance”. They were to welcome the members of a parliamentary committee, but they did not show up at the airport.
The suspension of officials is the first step in these cases in a governmental context; any further action will be based on an investigation. According to the senior official, who requested anonymity, “I started to receive calls from some high-level politicians asking me to reconsider my decision to suspend them.” There was a lot of pressure from all sides, which I didn’t expect.
He claims these officers were friends of powerful politicians whom they met and witnessed at airports. “You have to understand that these high-level politicians would appreciate the help of a helpful airport employee,” the official said.
As a result of these political interventions, Air India became an organization that rarely, if ever, made harsh decisions.
Cut the date to March 20, 2022. Air India made one of the most stringent decisions, prohibiting all Indian agents from booking flights in the India-Canada sector after they were discovered to be profiteering by blocking seats at lower prices and reselling them at higher prices. This was unprecedented on Air India. ” These people created a shambles.
As a result, a harsh decision had to be made, “said a senior Air India official who declined to be identified. Agents, on the other hand, argue that a blanket ban on the mistakes, if any, made by a few is unjust. There has been no communication from the airline about this. We have no idea what will happen as the ban is still in place, “said Ajay Prakash, president of the Federation of Travel Agents of India.
A management committee led by Nipun Aggarwal and supported by four directors (commercial, finance, operations, and human resources) made the decision.
Except for the CEO, the airline’s top management is now in place. N Chandrasekharan, chairman of Tata Group, is the airline’s chairman, while RS Sandhu has been renamed chief of operations, and Vinod Hejmadi has been named CFO. The CEO is advised by Amrita Sharan and Meenakshi Malik. They will advise the chairman until a CEO is appointed.
While Aggarwal has been named chief commercial officer, three others have been named as heads of human resources, digital, and customer service.
The Tatas suffered a major setback when Mehmet Ilker Ayci, former CEO of Turkish Airlines, declined to join Air India as CEO, citing reports of his close relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose views on Kashmir and Islamist terrorism are unpalatable to the Indian establishment. The group is looking for a new CEO.
Employees interviewed by ET do not expect a significant change in the work culture before a new CEO takes over. They are also optimistic about their future at the airline.
The beauty of any transition is that it allows you to make a positive change without upsetting too many people. The Tata Group is well-known for its employee-welcoming policies. If it can transform Air India and do so while retaining employees, it could become one of the most significant turnaround stories and a case study in global management schools.
edited and proofread by nikita sharma