New Delhi: This would definitely not be music to the ears of the cash-strapped Air India.
Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, who had been making a strong case for reviving the national carrier, has been patronising the number one rival of the airlines instead.
Patel chose to fly Kingfisher Airlines about 70 per cent more than Air India for all domestic travels during the last one year, it has been learnt.
The loss-making national carrier has been struggling to pay salary to its 31,000 staff. It posted a net loss of Rs 5,200 crore in 2008-09 and is expected to lose another Rs 5,400 crore in the fiscal ended March 2010.
In fact, in July 2009, the Finance Ministry had ordered all Central government employees to fly only on the state-owned flag carrier for their official travel - both domestic and international.
The order was issued to shore up revenue streams for the cash-strapped Air India and to lend confidence to a clutch of lenders the airlines had planned to tap for medium term loans.
"For travel to stations not connected by AI, officials may travel by AI to the point closest to their eventual destination, beyond which they may utilise the services of another airline, which should also preferably be an alliance partner of the national carrier," the order stated.
Patel, however, chose to fly the number one private airlines for most of his domestic travels undertaken during the period June 1, 2009 to July 2, 2010.
"I am the Union Civil Aviation Minister and not the minister in-charge for Air India. As a minister, it is not bounding upon me to fly only one particular airline. I fly according to my convenience," said Patel.
When asked about his claims of reviving ailing airline, he said, "I'm not only minister for Indian Airlines, but for the entire Indian aviation industry. So I can fly any airlines depending on my schedule and availability of flight."
The details were revealed by the Ministry of Civil Aviation in response to a Right to Information plea filed by Jagjit Singh, a Central government employee himself.
Singh had sought to know the full details of the air travels undertaken by Patel - both domestic and international.
Out of the total 41 domestic flights between Delhi and Mumbai, Patel has flown Kingfisher 26 times.
"It is intriguing that the minister who stresses the need for revival of the national carrier himself chooses to ignore it," said Singh.
He pointed out that Patel incurred Rs 5.97 lakh on his travels by the airlines owned by Vijay Mallya's UB group. "Only Rs 2.36 lakh went to the Indian Airlines," he added.
Patel also undertook five international travels during the period for which information was sought. Out of the five flights that the minister took to Paris and London, Istanbul, Dubai, USA and UK and Germany and UK, he flew by Air India on two occasions. The details of the other three were not given by the ministry, stating bills for the same were yet to be cleared.
The National Aviation Company of India Ltd (Nacil), which runs AI, is facing a financial crisis after its borrowings rose sharply to Rs 15,241 crore in June 2009 from Rs 6,550 crore in November 2007. A part of the borrowings was for buying new aircraft.
The merged company inherited an order placed in 2005 for 111 planes -- 68 Boeing and 43 Airbus --valued at nearly $15 billion at list prices.
The central government in February this year had approved an equity infusion of Rs 800 crore for the ailing carrier in two instalments to tide over the cash flow problem and finance fleet acquisition plans.
The airline was also waiting for a Cabinet nod to raise its working capital by Rs 1,000 crore. Currently, the airline's working capital is Rs 17,000 crore.