Air India: Expectations, Disappointments & Milestones Of the Tatas The Air India journey under the aegis of Tata Group is full of ups and downs: From violation of safety norms, passenger disappointments to having landmark events, the airline witnessed two eventful anniversaries

By Shrabona Ghosh

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In January 2022, the Tata group announced the completion of the transaction for the purchase of Air India from the Government of India. It's been two eventful years for the airline, however, the journey hasn't been smooth. From the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) terming the airline's response to unruly passenger incidents as 'lackadaisical and delayed' to the airline being fined INR1.1 crore for safety breaches, there have been disappointments. These are not isolated cases as there have been multiple social media posts pointing at unpleasant experiences of passengers. Did the Tata's fail to meet people's expectations? Amid disappointments, the Indian conglomerate has had milestones, accrediting a few first to its name.

What went wrong?

Post the acquisition, the year was a smooth ride for the airline until incidents of unruly passengers came to light. In June 2023, in a mid-air incident, a passenger on an Air India flight was arrested for allegedly defecating and urinating on the floor of a Mumbai-Delhi flight. In a similar incident, an inebriated man allegedly urinated on a female co-passenger aboard an Air India flight from New York to Delhi.

In Feb 2023, chef Sanjeev Kapoor, took to social media and raised concerns about the kind of food being served. "Wake Up @airindiain. Nagpur-Mumbai 0740 flight. Cold chicken Tikka with watermelon, cucumber, tomato & sev. Sandwich with minuscule filling of chopped cabbage with mayo. Sugar syrup Sponge painted with sweetened cream & yellow glaze," he had tweeted. He added, "Really!!! Is this what Indians should eat for breakfast??" He concluded his post with a few pictures of the food he received.

Fast forward to January 2024, the airline is again under the public ire after social media platforms were flooded with complaints from passengers showing displeasure with Air India experience. A passenger paid INR 4.5 lakh for a journey from Canada to Delhi and was dissatisfied with the overall experience as she had to face multiple issues. "We were on an Air India flight from Delhi to Toronto traveling with our two kids and let me share our travel experience- We three were seated together and unfortunately almost everything was non functional," the passenger had written. In December, another passenger flying from Mumbai to Melbourne on Air India's newly launched service raised multiple concerns, pointing towards hardware and software aspects of the airline's offerings.

Recently, the Indian civil aviation regulator DGCA has imposed a penalty of INR 1.1 crore on Air India for safety violations on certain flights. The airline has been fined for non-compliance of regulations and safety manuals in case of oxygen-related compliant requirements for operation of leased Boeing B777 aircraft. "We disagree with the order issued by the DGCA. The issues raised were thoroughly examined by Air India along with external experts concluding that there was no compromise on safety, whatsoever. We are studying the order in detail and will review the options available to us, including our right to appeal as well as taking it up with the regulator," the airline said in a statement.

A statement issued by the DGCA read, "Since the investigation prima facie revealed non-compliance by the airline, a Show Cause Notice was issued to the Accountable Manager of Air India Limited. The response to the Show Cause Notice was duly examined with respect to the laid down stipulations under the relevant statutory provisions and the performance limits stipulated in critical documentations laid down by the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM)."

The milestones

In a landmark moment for Indian aviation, civil aviation minister Mr. Jyotiraditya Scindia officially inaugurated India's and Air India's first Airbus A350 aircraft on the first day of Wings India 2024.

"The A350 is a game-changer for Air India," said Campbell Wilson, CEO, Air India. "It will not only elevate our passenger experience but also open up new routes and opportunities for expansion. Together with the full interior refit of our legacy widebody aircraft commencing mid-2024, this upgradation of fleet and product is a key pillar of returning Air India to the upper echelons of world aviation."

Equipped with fuel-efficient Rolls-Royce Trent XWB engines, the Airbus A350 delivers optimal performance, environmental benefits, and superior passenger comfort. Its impressive range of up to 9,700nm (18,000 km) enables non-stop flights from India to destinations in the United States, Canada, and Australia.

The airline also announced the launch of a 600,000 sq ft integrated aviation training academy, the largest in South Asia, in Gurugram, India. The academy is another significant step in Air India's ongoing transformation and will power the growth of India's aviation ecosystem over the coming years. The announcement was made at Wings India 2024.Air India is setting up centers for advanced training of pilots in two state-of-the-art simulator training units, in collaboration with OEMs. There will be over 20 Full Flight Simulator (FFS) Bays to support Air India's existing and future Airbus and Boeing fleet and ensure crew readiness ahead of future aircraft deliveries. The airline today entered a joint venture with Airbus to equip the training center with 10 of the 20 FFS Bays. The Academy will feature simulators of the Airbus A320 Family, A350, Boeing 777, Boeing 787, and Boeing 737 family. Tata Group-owned Air India ordered 470 planes -- 250 from Airbus and 220 from Boeing -- in February last year.

Over the last two years, Air India has added five domestic and 11 international routes to its network, and opened five international stations. Air India operates 47 non-stop flights per week, and over the northern winter 2023 schedule (October to March), will take delivery of more than 30 new aircraft and add more than 400 weekly flights. As per data shared by Wilson with AI employees, Air India has clocked 249 percent revenue growth over the past two years, while Air India Express's revenue grew 148 percent over the period. The full-service carrier reported its highest daily revenue of INR 115 crore in August 2023, marking a 26 percent year-on-year increase.

Although the airline is working towards its ambitious revamp plans under Vihaan.AI to transform 'Maharaja of the Skies', the airline needs to overcome challenges and address passenger issues in order to establish the Tata Group-owned carrier as a world-class airline.

Shrabona Ghosh

Correspondent

A journalist with a cosmopolitan mindset. I lead a project called 'Corporate Innovations' wherein I cover corporates across verticals and try to tell stories on innovations. Apart from this, I write industry pieces on FMCGs, auto, aviation, 5G and defense. 

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