Tackling turbulence is part of flight plan

The Air India Express crisis, which led to the cancellation of over 170 flights since Tuesday, has been brought under control. The union, representing a section of the airline’s employees, said on Thursday that crew members who had reported sick will return to duty ‘immediately’, and the airline’s management has agreed to reinstate 25 crew members who were sacked. The airline will be merged with AIX Connect, formerly AirAsia India, another Tata-owned budget carrier, and the staff was unhappy with service terms. This isn’t the first instance of disquiet over assimilation of the four airlines that Tatas own. Vistara pilots had to be pacified last month over service terms after the airline merged with Air India.

These flare-ups, although avoidable, are expected from a merger as complicated as that of Air India, given the diversity of ownership and management cultures of the airlines involved. Vistara and AIX Connect started as Tatas’ JVs with Singapore Airlines and Malaysian AirAsia, respectively. Air India and Air India Express were state-owned and struggling under debt and losses. The group’s plan to revive Air India involves negotiations with unions to align working conditions post-merger. This is tricky at the best of times, and even more so when dealing with such diversity. However, Tata Group has the bandwidth to manage this complex amalgamation with its record of domestic and international acquisitions.

Tata’s strategy for its airline business centres around fleet expansion. Demand for pilots and cabin crew to operate Air India’s new aircraft, and those of competitor IndiGo, is projected to remain robust for the next decade, as over 1,000 aircraft are set to join India’s commercial airline fleet. Existing employees stand to gain in an industry grappling with a shortage of training facilities, considering growth forecasts for India’s aviation sector. This favourable outlook should facilitate resolution of differences between staff and Tata management without causing undue inconvenience to passengers.


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