A reenergizing chapter in the history of Air India opened on January 27 with the formal handover of the flag carrier by the government to Tata Group. With the completion of the transaction, the management and control of the airline now rest with Talace Private Ltd., the newest subsidiary of the Tata Group.
A day after the transaction, pilots greeted passengers with the message “Welcome to the future of Air India,” indicating change was on its way.
The transaction includes Air India, Air India Express, and 50 percent of the ground and cargo handling services joint venture AI SATS. “We are excited to have Air India back in the Tata Group and are committed to making this a world-class airline,” said Tata Sons chairman N. Chandrasekaran in a statement. In 1953, the government assumed control of the airline, which was then owned by the Tatas.
The handover ends a years-long period marked by several failed attempts to sell the carrier, whose losses amounted to about $10 billion. “It’s good that the burden of running Air India has moved from taxpayers to shareholders,” remarked prominent Indian industrialist Anand Mahindra. “I'm sure the [Tata Group] will do a great job.” The group now holds control over three major airlines: Vistara (51 percent), AirAsia India (83 percent), and Air India (100 percent).
The task ahead appears gigantic for the Tatas, though not unsurmountable, said Vishok Mansingh, CEO of Delhi-based Vman Aero Services consultancy. “We can expect it will take the Tatas six months to consolidate routes, management, and finances,” he added. “This will be followed by retrofits to aircraft presently in a shabby condition. The difference between the old and new will really start showing by October.”
Expectations abound for a return of the company’s former standing. Nivedita Bhasin, Air India’s former executive director of safety management, told AIN she hoped the airline would install a strong flight safety chief as “an umbrella which all departments come under.” For her, a commitment to sustainability represents the top task ahead for the Tatas. “[Air India must] take the lead in using sustainable aviation fuel as the Indian regulatory body has permitted it to be used on new aircraft,” she concluded.