“A final set of documents is awaited from Ireland. If that comes in time as is expected, then AI will be handed over on Thursday,” said people in the know.
The legal documentation is complete except for a mandatory no objection from Ireland-based lessors, which is expected by late Wednesday night. To bring Maharaja’s sheen back, the focus of Tatas is to improve on-time performance with aircraft door closing 10 minutes before departure time. An “enhanced meal service” will be rolled out on flights in a staggered manner from Thursday.
The changes have started flowing in form of advisories to frontline staff who are interfacing with passengers. As reported by TOI on Tuesday, cabin crew BMI and grooming will be checked when they report for flights. This is being opposed by unions.
“Tonight we will transit from a public sector to a private sector. The next seven days will be very important as we will be changing our image, attitude and perception,” says a mail sent to cabin crew members.
The key points finalised by Sandeep Verma and Megha Singhania of Tatas, who will head inflight service, are that cabin crew are “important brand ambassadors playing critical role in brand/image building.
Passengers will be welcomed, addressed and served as guests. “There will be changes in (inflight) announcements… will be intimated… Special audio address by Shri Ratan Tata,” it says.
“Crew has to be smartly dressed, adhering to regulations. Grooming associates will be observing the crew for the above.” Air India domestic OTP is among the lowest for all big airlines and the founder group realises this needs to change. “On time performance is important. All endeavours to close doors at D (departure time) minus 10 minutes.”
The meal service onboard will be enhanced.
“The caterers have been briefed. They will gradually provide the meals and equipment for the service.” Delhi-Mumbai and key Gulf routes will be among the first to get this rollout along with flights to the US and UK.
A handover event is likely to place in Delhi in which apart from top government functionaries, Tata Sons Chairman N Chandrasekaran is also likely to be present as AI divestment is being seen as one of the biggest achievements of the Modi government. Since the start of the Millennium, at two unsuccessful attempts were made to do this. Late PM Atal Behari Vajpayee had described AI as a “gambheer samasya” (serious problem) in the early 2000s.
While big-ticket changes like fleet and cabin upgrade will take time, two things have been identified for giving a new feel to passengers, nee guests, post the takeover — vastly improved meal service and airline interface with crew and ground staff.
If Tatas are able to transform AI into a profitable airline — something that their recent airline ventures AirAsia India and Vistara have not been since inception in the last 7-8 years — it will be one of the biggest aviation transformations globally.
Challenges — not just financial in terms of massive investment needed for fleet and cabin upgrade — abound for the Tatas. Two pilots unions have warned of legal action over their “multiple (salary) deductions” and have projected recoveries.
“This recovery exercise is entirely illegal, and we demand that this anomaly is rectified and the amount due is repaid with immediate effect,” the letter sent by the two unions said. Cabin crew unions are up in arms against the move to check body mass index (BMI) and overall grooming of staffers when they report for flights.
The Tatas have so far not spoken about their preparations to take over AI and AI Express and also their plans for the airline. That clarity is expected when the handover happens.
It is learnt that the Tatas have so far not approached the regulator for a licence/s (airline operating permit) for their airline. The Aircraft Act empowers the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) to allow the Tatas to operate the airlines in an interim period till they decide what form will their aviation vertical look like — one mega airline or the more likely option of a merged AirAsia India-Air India Express as a big low cost carrier (LCC) and Air India and Vistara continuing as separate full-service carriers (FSC).
The four Boeing 747 jumbo jets of AI are also being transferred to the Tatas. But since they are each over 27-year-old and no longer used for VVIP flights, it remains to be seen if the Tatas use them. The Rs 18,000-crore deal will see Tatas giving up Rs 2,700 crore upfront and taking over Rs 15,300 debt. Additionally, they will spend several thousand crores on revamping the airline.