Air India must perform or perish: Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh

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New Delhi:  The UPA government won't privatise national carrier Air India but the airline needs to perform if it doesn't want to perish - this is what Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh told NDTV in an exclusive interview.

"The airline cannot be complacent as there a lot of new airlines that are coming in. Both the management and employees of Air India must perform or perish," Mr Singh said, adding the government was committed to restructuring Air India's long-term debt to turn around the airline.

The minister was, perhaps, referring to the entry of foreign carriers into India's domestic skies. While Abu Dhabi-based Etihad has already bought 24% stake in Jet Airways, low-cost giant Air Asia is all set to start domestic operations in India along with the Tata Group.

The Tata Group has already announced another full-service carrier by tying up with Singapore Airlines.

"The airline will have to make itself profitable or a subsequent government will have to explore at privatizing... This government is not privatizing Air India but no government can keep infusing money. Even now, the government is finding it difficult to meet its financial obligations because of the fiscal deficit," argued Mr Singh.

But isn't privatization a politically-contentious issue? "Yes it is, but experience has shown that in the service industry, companies work with very thin margins and customer satisfaction is the key. Experience has shown that the government is not very good on these counts," countered the minister, adding, "there was a time when the government ran hotels but they were all privatized and that is expected."

The minister also strongly defended the controversial Jet-Etihad deal which BJP's Subramanian Swamy had moved the Supreme Court against, barely a couple of days ago.

"These days, everything reaches courts as somebody or the other will file a case but I am not too sure what the courts can say as these are policy decisions taken by the government, keeping in mind various strategic and commercial interests."

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