Book Review: The Descent of Air India

The book ‘Descent of Air India’ is written by Jitender Bhargava, who spent more than 2 decades working with the airline.

As such, he writes with an insider’s view with brutal honesty how a great airline was brought to its knees.

Air India started life in October 1932 when the great JRD Tata flew a single engine aircraft from Karachi to Bombay carrying air mail.

The airline was christened as Tata Airservices and then Tata Airlines and then Air India in 1946.

In 1953, the Government took over the airline and thus started the slow descent of Air India.

The initial decades were very good for the company as it enjoyed monopolistic status.But as the skies freed up and competition increased, the airline was unable to cope and is currently on the deathbed.

The Book explains how deep the rot is there in Air India and makes for a depressing read.

The rot starts right from the top…the Civil Aviation Minister and the rotten babus of the Civil Aviation Ministry.

The Book is full of anecdotes of their antics that makes one cringe.

Once Air India wanted to recruit cabin crew.The Chairman and HR Head were summoned by Ghulam Nabi Azaad,then Civil Aviation Minister.He asked them to recruit his candidates.When the request was declined as these candidates were already rejected by Selection Panel, the Minister cancelled the Recruitment Process !

In another shocking example, a Canadian Company was found guilty in a Canadian Court for giving bribes to Officials for a security system in Air India.The then Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel is explicitly named in the indictment.

The rot follows to the Chairman/MD of Air India.The author wryly puts it: “Instead of following Mahatma Gandhi’s decree that Work is Worship, the successive Chairmen/MD of Air India believe in Worship (to the Minister) is Work”

There is an interesting passage in the book about how Air India Chairmen behave:

“Every new Chairman would come in and garland JRD Tata’s bust, which is located in the foyer;a photographer was present recording the moment for posterity;and then the Chairman walked into the room once occupied by JRD Tata. He would then say that he was humbled to sit where the great man once did and he would endeavor to restore the airline’s past glory.”

But nobody really did anything and the airline continued to bleed.

The author also writes about the notorious unions of Air India.For the slightest excuse, they would abort flights,walk out etc.

The unions were very successful negotiating fat paychecks, allowances, perks etc for themselves and this lead to the bloated cost structure of Air India.

The author examines critically two of the main problems facing Air India-the nonsensical acquisition of 50 aircraft and merger with Indian Airlines.

Both these decisions taken by Praful Patel resulted in the company collapsing completely…it has incurred losses of over 40,000 Crores (and counting) since then.

The author ends the Book with the Question-Was Air India murdered (due to specific acts of malafide intention) or suicide (due to own actions of stupidity and mismanagement) ?

The answer is : Both

After reading this book, one cannot help but come to the conclusion that Public Sector Companies can survive only in an environment where they are a monopoly. They cannot compete where the private sector have a free and fair hand.Sector after sector-telecom ,banking, insurance-etc bears this out.

Do buy this Book to know how sarkaari companies function and how the aviation sector works.

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