Troubled national carrier Air India (AI) has earned the dubious distinction of being an airline with the highest number of employees on its rolls per aircraft, as it has been hiring staff to oblige political bosses who run the government.
According to industry sources, no reputed airline in the world has an employee-to-aircraft ratio as high as that of AI with 27,000 employees at last count.
With 122 aircraft in its fleet (including Air India Express), the national carrier has 221 employees per aircraft compared to 127 per plane at Lufthansa (38,000 employees: 299 aircraft), 140 at Singapore Airlines (14,000 employees with 100 aircraft) and British Airways 178 employees per aircraft.
"It is a fact that they are overstaffed. Positions were created to please political bosses. Staff was not hired according to operational requirements. People were hired not for competence but for connections," said captain Mohan Ranganathan, an aviation safety consultant.
As the taxpayer's money is now being utilised to save AI, voices are being raised to prune the airline's staff strength to make it economically viable.
"Now, there is a good opportunity for downsizing. The deadwood needs to be removed," Ranganathan added.
Captain G. R. Gopinath, the founder of Air Deccan, is of the view that the national carrier must be made leaner and restructured completely in order to survive.
"The second highest liability of AI is overstaffing next only to the Rs 40,000 crore debt," he said.
It is now incumbent on the airline to launch an aggressive voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) immediately to downsize the airline, which is running up a wage bill of Rs 3,609 crore annually.
Scaling down the number of employees and cutting their fat pay packets forms part of the turnaround plan of the loss-making airline but these crucial steps have not been implemented.
The VRS offered previously by AI had not met with success as the employees are very comfortable in their cushy jobs.
In 2003 and 2008, AI had launched VRS and less than 1,000 employees are estimated to have opted for it.
Last year, the airline allowed its employees to go on a sabbatical without pay and but only a handful of staff had availed of this scheme.
Even the modest plan to prune 10 per cent of the staff strength through VRS has not been implemented as political will is lacking.
Many employees who are reluctant to shift to the strategic business units because of service condition uncertainties should be offered an attractive package to accept VRS to secure their future.
"It is a sorry plight that Air India does not have the right business plan and model which is adding to its woes," said Kapil Kaul, chief executive officer, South Asia, Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (Capa).
Courtesy: Mail Today