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One year with Tatas: Air India ‘progress nothing short of stunning; much more to be done,’ says Wilson –

NEW DELHI: “The progress (made) over the last 12 months has been nothing short of stunning” and “more than our successes, it is how we respond to our lapses these that will define us.” This is what Air India MD-CEO Campbell Wilson told employees on Friday, when the Tata Group completed its first year of taking over the Maharaja that was founded by JRD Tata in 1932. The airline is going to place a mega order for a mix of Boeing and Airbus single and twin aisles shortly, with the order for the US aerospace major likely to coincide with the first anniversary on Friday.
The biggest pain point for AI passengers has been dilapidated state of AI onboard product — broken seats, armrests, tray tables; non-functional inflight entertainment screens; dirty seat fabric, carpets and overall shabby interiors — as the last few penurious years of the state-owned Maharaja saw no investment being made on these items. Global supply chain constraints sparked by Covid and then aggravated by Russia’s war on Ukraine have delayed ambitious plans of Air India to upgrade the existing product. However despite the challenges, Wilson gave a list of what has been achieved in the last one year and what remains to be done.
The achievements include taking a number of grounded-for-years aircraft back in the sky. Due to an acute lack of funds, state-owned AI used many of its aircraft as Christmas trees, meaning used them to pluck spares to keep other planes flying as it could not buy new parts of spares. Wilson said the number of operating aircraft in the last one year has increased 27% and is at 100 now. “The number of daily flights has increased by 30% and weekly international services have risen 63%. Sixteen new international routes have been started or announced (to be launched shortly) and frequency on nine existing ones have been increased. Average daily passengers have risen by 72% and daily revenue has doubled. Average daily frequency has increased 81%.” These are listed as the impressive achievements of the first year.
The first improvement that AI saw under the Tatas was on onboard meals, thanks to sister company Taj Hotels’ flight catering subsidiary TajSATS. Subsequently as AI was able to make grounded planes airworthy and procure spares, the onetime performance saw vast improvement. For many months, Tata Group airlines — AI, Vistara and AirAsia India — topped the domestic punctuality charts. Thanks to fund infusion, AI was able to process Covid-time refunds to passengers waiting a long time for the same.
Going ahead, Tatas have announced investing $400 million on refurbishing interiors of existing widebody fleet that includes having the latest IFE systems on board across all cabin classes. Work on merging Vistara into AI and AirAsia India into AI Express is on. A “historic order” for aircraft is on the way.
Thanking employees for “coming together behind this mission (reviving AI) of national importance so quickly and constructively”, Wilson told employees: “We have set out to create an airline that ranks amongst the best in the world, and will proudly represent the new India on the global stage…. Taken together, the progress over the last 12 months has been nothing short of stunning… There is of course much more that needs to be done, and everyone — internally and externally — is hungry for us to do it…. Air India is on a journey to greater heights, and we want all of you to rise with it.”
“As we step into year two of Air India 2.0, we acknowledge that in any project of scale, there will be challenges along the way. More than our successes, it is how we respond to our lapses these that will define us… We will now, through our sustained hard work, do our utmost to deliver on our promise to be the best carrier India has ever seen, and as our founders envisioned. Together, with one eye on the horizon, we can and we shall,” Wilson, a veteran of Tatas’ long trusted airline partner Singapore Airlines, said.